Webster Young

For Lady

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While trumpeter Webster Young pays tribute to Billie Holiday on this, his only studio date as a leader, the set is equally a tribute to Young's musical role model, Miles Davis. Young has Miles' soft-focus tone from the early to mid-'50s and, according to Ira Gitler's liner notes, he is actually playing Miles' cornet on the date. The similarities between the two players make this 1957 session a satisfying companion to Miles' work circa 1951-1953. Young is nicely matched here with tenor saxophonist Paul Quinichette, with the two of them using a pleasantly blowsy approach to weave loose, discursive counterpoint around each other. Guitarist Joe Puma distinguishes the set with thoughtful, understated playing that calls to mind Kenny Burrell's own Prestige dates from this period. Pianist Mal Waldron, drummer Ed Thigpen, and bassist Earl May infuse the performances with a cohesive, relaxed swing. They give each other lots of space, and Waldron makes astute choices in his chord selection, phrasing, and comping strategies. The tracks comprise five pieces associated with Holiday and one Young original, written in homage to Lady Day. True to Holiday's approach, the mood is world-weary, bordering on bleak, but with breaches of light like those that would briefly suffuse Holiday's songs. "Strange Fruit" is the one track that misses the mark. Where Holiday allowed the stark irony of the lyrics to carry the song, Young's instrumental version labors the point by including an execution squad drum roll. This could have been effective had it been limited to the intro and ending, but when Thigpen's martial snare also crops up midsong it breaks the subtle, macabre atmosphere of the piece.

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