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Count Basie and Lester Young: Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie and Lester Young Studio Sessions

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"Still downright progressive": In New York in 1938, Lester Young delights (from left) Earle Warren and Jack Washington

It’s a universally acknowledged truth that great music never sounds out-of-date, and Count Basie is remarkably evergreen. His “Old Testament” band epitomizes the big-band swing era-the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic devices that made 1930s America dance. But in practice that band epitomizes swing itself. “Count Basie took the Kansas City blues and made it happy,” Tony Bennett once remarked, perhaps summing up the enduring appeal that makes a collection like the eight-CD Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie and Lester Young Studio Sessions the Lord’s work.

And that’s without even mentioning Lester Young, Basie’s tenor saxophonist during his glory years. He’s not just timeless-he’s still downright progressive, still pointing the way forward for the tenor tradition. Sleek, lyrical and at once muscular and lightweight, Young’s sound was revolutionary when it first appeared on the 1936 session by Jones-Smith Incorporated (a Basie/Young small group) that begins this Mosaic box. On the 1947 bebop-ified quintet date that closes it, Prez still seems to know something his bandmates don’t: His laidback slyness on “Tea for Two” says to his juiced-up bandmates, as pointedly as words, “Relax, fellas. We got this.”

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