Pres hooks up with the Maharaja. According to legend, Young's powers faded after a traumatic stint in the army during World War II. And yes, the opening four numbers seem to corroborate this story. Peterson's quartet (the title was a mistake in its first printing and has thus never been fixed) cooks, jives, swings, pushes and otherwise sizzles behind Lester. Barney Kessel in particular throws out some some super hot licks and Peterson does his usual genius turn at every opportunity.
Young's playing becomes prominent as the combo shifts away from high-octane numbers to slower tunes. There is a weariness and broken-heartedness to Young's playing that simultaneously startles, inspires, and haunts. It is no mystery that Billie Holliday and Lester were so close for so many years, as their fates seemed to mirror each other. At times, Lester seems so out of breath that notes barely make their way out of his horn. Of course, this delicate playing only strengthens the quality of the overall performances. We all like a little bitter with our sweet, do we not?
The final cut of the album might be the most bitter, actually. A studio out take that features a drink-sodden Prez singing in the style of Louis Armstrong an improvised Two to Tango. It's NSFW (as the kids say nowadays) and serves as an odd coda to an otherwise sweet, if uneven affair.
Billie Holiday and Lester Young, A Musical Romance
The legendary Oscar Peterson Trio, Saturday night at the Blue Note