The great saxophonist Lucky Thompson died in 2005, at 81. In musical terms his silence began much earlier: he gave his last known performances in the 1970s, after which he more or less disappeared, leading an itinerant life. (His outspoken disdain for the music business is often cited as motivation.) New York City, 1964-65 (Uptown) captures him a decade before his self-exile, around the time of his landmark album Lucky Strikes. The newly unearthed material, from two distinct engagements, compounds our sense of what was lost when he withdrew from the scene.
First up is a 1964 concert featuring Mr. Thompsons music arranged for octet, a preferred format of his. The orchestrations are unfussy and appealingly lightweight, and most of the enlisted sidemen notably the pianist Hank Jones and the baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne make robust solo statements. But the real treat is hearing Mr. Thompson caress Twas Yesterday, a courtly ballad, and then barrel through Firebug, a jaunty blues bracketed by Latin-jazz fanfare. No less rewarding is The World Awakes, on which he trades his soft-burred tenor for a pristine soprano.
That tune, a sort of theme song, resurfaces in a 1965 radio broadcast from the Half Note. But here, with a quartet, Mr. Thompson stretches out. On a pair of upbeat standards he practically glides with his tenor, bubbling with ideas; his soprano playing, especially in ballad mode, is radiant. And his banter with the radio host Alan Grant reveals glimpses of character: hes courteous but sober, pained at the state of the world.