Past Perfect is an imprint of TIM The International Music Company AG, a German company that specializes in multi-disc sets of unlicensed recordings by vintage artists, taking advantage of the 50-year copyright limit on recordings in Europe. Past Perfect's Hall of Fame series presents five-CD box sets that, as the cover note claims, "incl. 40-page booklet." Thus, here we have nearly five hours of early Lester Young recordings made between 1936 and 1952. The material has been transferred from records originally released by such labels as Vocalion, Decca, Brunswick, Aladdin, and Keynote. While the middle three discs contain small-group performances from the mid-'40s to the early '50s on which Young usually was the leader, the first disc consists of '30s recordings on which he was a sideman, largely in studio bands led by Teddy Wilson to back Billie Holiday, and the fifth disc consists of '30s and early- '40s tracks by the Count Basie Orchestra, of which Young was a member. The booklet does indeed run 40 pages, and the 30 of those pages devoted to prose are closely printed. But the unsigned essay, like that for other Hall of Fame boxes, is an odd one, and not only because the phrasing is sometimes stilted (as if it had been written in a language other than English and then translated), but also because it is so heavily padded with tangential information. Practically every time a musician with whom Young played is mentioned (and that is often), the reference is accompanied by a mini-biography of that person. The essay contains factual errors, and the text and other credits are littered with typos, misspellings, and other minor mistakes. Needless to say, a jazz fan looking for a comprehensive box set of Young's work with coherent commentary should look elsewhere, but a casual fan interested in obtaining a big chunk of Young's music at a modest price (which is what this set was selling for on release in American mail-order catalogs) could do worse. (Each of the five discs also has been released separately, sometimes under different titles from those used in this box set. CD One, called "I'll Get By" in the box set, has been released as Countless Blues; CD Two, Jammin' With Lester, is available separately under that same title; CD Three, "Sax-O-Be-Bop," can be purchased singly as Movin' With Lester; CD Four, Lester Swings, is for sale by that name on its own; and CD Five, "Lester Leaps In," is called Basic Years as a standalone).
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann