Lucky Thompson: New York City, 1964-65

Although his nickname was Lucky, saxophonist Eli Thompson seemed to have little of it during a fitful career that effectively ended in 1974 (he died in 2005 at 82, having been homeless and suffering from dementia.)

Thompson was a music biz outcast, bitter and difficult, but an accomplished, original player. This two-CD set of unearthed live club dates finds him performing his own compositions in an octet format ('64), creamy arrangements giving way to spirited blowing, a mix of hard-swinging post-bop and ballads.

The second disc ('65) features the saxophonist in a looser quartet format, stretching out and plumbing his considerable technique and imagination. Thompson splits time between tenor and soprano, the latter an instrument popularized by John Coltrane. But Thompson, three years Trane's senior, did not drink the Kool-Aid and followed his own, more lyrical, bird-toned course. (Uptown)