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‘The Savory Collection, Volume 2—Jumpin’ at the Woodside: The Count Basie Orchestra Featuring Lester Young’ Review – WSJ

‘The Savory Collection, Volume 2—Jumpin’ at the Woodside: The Count Basie Orchestra Featuring Lester Young’ Review – WSJ

‘The Savory Collection, Volume 2—Jumpin’ at the Woodside: The Count Basie Orchestra Featuring Lester Young’ Review
Previously unreleased live recordings of two jazz titans are charged with intimate immediacy.
By Will Friedwald Dec. 21, 2016 2:33 p.m. ET

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Lester Young and Count Basie Photo: The Savory Collection
W.C. Fields famously described Charlie Chaplin as “the best ballet dancer that ever lived.” Chaplin’s lightness on his toes—his agility darting in and out between pursuers and adversaries, his narrow escapes from cliffs, cars and menacing heavies—surely elevated slapstick into a Nijinsky-like feat.
Listening to the “The Savory Collection, Volume 2—Jumpin’ at the Woodside: The Count Basie Orchestra Featuring Lester Young, ” produced by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and released on Apple Music/iTunes, makes one wonder what Fields would have thought of the tenor saxophonist Lester Young. As the central soloist with the first great Count Basie Orchestra, Young is constantly aloft—he’s like an interpretive dancer flying both in front of and high above other musicians who constitute the chorus. Woody Allen, recognizing this, used Young’s agility in the Basie classic “Taxi War Dance” as recurring underscoring for the comic capers in his most recent film, “Café Society.”
Considering the scarcity of live recordings by Basie with Young, the new release is of considerable historical importance. The 22 tracks were originally performed in ballrooms and nightclubs between 1938 and 1940, and taken down from live radio by Bill Savory, a professional recording engineer. Although the band’s commercial studio recordings exerted a huge influence on subsequent generations of musicians across genres—from Stan Getz to Ray Charles —these live performances, with copious crowd noises and occasional snippets of announcements, provide a much more immediate and intimate feeling.
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They bring us back to the instant of Basie and Young’s breakthrough, and underscore the continuing relevance of their achievement. Together, the pianist-bandleader and saxophonist created a sound that was unprecedentedly light yet driving; before then, Louis Armstrong, for instance, played with an opulent grandeur partly inspired by grand opera, Art Tatum improvised with the harmonic profundity of a jazz Chopin, and Young’s tenor sax predecessor, Coleman Hawkins, soloed with a big robust tone reminiscent of a Russian basso profondo. Basie and Young pioneered the idea that lightness could swing in a way that not only propels soloists like Young, as well as his tenor cohort Herschel Evans and the distinctive trumpeter Harry Edison, but was also the perfect beat to inspire lindy-hopping dancers to attain new heights.
In later decades, particularly in the hi-fi era, the Basie band was famous for its brilliantly exaggerated dynamics, the accentuated contrast between loud louds and soft softs, but at this point the music is all about pure swing and the irresistible energy of the blues. “Roseland Shuffle” (heard here in two different versions) finds “Prez,” as Young was nicknamed by colleague Billie Holiday, sending himself steadily skyward by means of a series of exchanged phrases with Basie himself; each time he responds to the Count’s piano, Prez projects himself ever more aloft.
The collection abounds with remarkable new discoveries, such as two versions of “Every Tub”; normally regarded as a vehicle for Young and the band’s other soloists (including Edison), the number is here a transcendent example of collective ensemble swing.
One particular find is “Texas Shuffle,” heard here in two extended performances—rare since the technology of the time made releasing long recordings difficult. The great tenor saxophonist delivers one of his most inspired solos on his other instrument, the clarinet, and, in the coda, he dodges the tumbling riffs from the horn ensemble in a manner that makes a perfect musical accompaniment to the famous scene of Chaplin on roller skates in “Modern Times” (released two years earlier, in 1936). Even backward, blindfolded and coming perilously close to the edge of a precipice, both Chaplin and Young dance with a gracefulness nothing short of majestic.
—Mr. Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for the Journal.


Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services T: 845-986-1677 E-Mail: jim@jazzpromoservices.com



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