2. “Pound Cake” (The Essential Count Basie Volume 1; Columbia, 1987 [originally recorded May 19, 1939])
We can’t depart from Basie’s ’30s work without one canonical Lester Young solo. Another blues—not everything Basie recorded was in the 12-bar, three-chord form, but it was his backbone—this one offers tastes of Herschel Evans, altoist Earl Warren, and Buck Clayton before Young takes off, gracefully, playfully, into a serene two-chorus line, then jousts with the horns in two-bar phrases. From any other band this record would be a trifle, an aimless blowing session. But “Pound Cake” is everything that the band does well: off-the-cuff workouts on the blues, surprisingly sharp head arrangements, and the consistent motion of the rhythm section while Basie himself goes sparse and subtle on the keys. This kind of sophistication-through-simplicity was a real revolution.