The Young Lions, The Young Lions
A terrific lost relic documenting the meeting of three jazz giants
Even if you're a fan of tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trumpeter Lee Morgan or alto saxophonist Frank Strozier, you may be unfamiliar with this obscure Vee-Jay release. Recorded in 1960, The Young Lions was originally part of a two-album set (the group under discussion here appeared on one record only.) It's a terrific lost relic you'll be glad to have found.
Everyone on The Young Lions plays well, but the saxophonists in particular stand out. In 1960, Wayne Shorter was still internalizing the seemingly contradictory approaches of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins — the two major tenor innovators of the era. He had Coltrane's harmonic vocabulary and Rollins's capacity to improvise melodically, but was already moving into his own voice. The Memphis-born Strozier played blues-drenched phrases, and had also thoroughly incorporated Trane's lessons, adding a dash of Charlie Parker. They're a good pair: Shorter's a cerebral player with muscle and Strozier's an emotional player with a keen intelligence.
The most interesting tunes are the two takes each of "Seeds of Sin" and "Scorn." Shorter plays very different solos on each take. Still, he manages to find one melodic device for both of the tunes that he works into the framework of the solo. Strozier, less compositionally-minded, is more apt to approach one take without thematic reference to the other. And Lee Morgan, the most purely intuitive of the three horns, is a perfect foil for the saxes. He sounds youthful and gutsy. During the first take of "Scorn," he momentarily boxes himself in, then works his way out of trouble. Isn't that one of the things that improvisers should occasionally do? No risk, no reward.
Both Morgan and Strozier take their best solos on the "Fat Lady (Take 3)." Shorter's Coltrane influence is very pronounced on the earlier take while Rollins's emerges on the latter. Pianist Bobby Timmons, bassist Bob Cranshaw and alternating drummers Louis Hayes and Tootie Heath play effectively and with plenty of drive throughout. Timmons and Cranshaw are given some feature time on the long blues "That's Right," and acquit themselves wonderfully, but by and large the rhythm section cedes the spotlight to the horns. In 1960, these guys really were young lions. It's good to hear them that way again.