Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bud Powell: When Bebop Took Shape

Bud Powell (piano; b. 1924 - d. 1966)

Bud Powell is arguably one of the top five jazz greatest pianists of all time. His style while influenced by Theonious Monk and Art Tatum in his early years would become very distinctive very quickly. He developed great agility on the piano and his ability to rip of chord changes at a blistering pace was something other musicians had not seen at the time. But Powell wasn't just an amazing improviser he also had subtle rhythmic tones that made his mid period work standout far and above many of his contemporaries.

While his studio recording career was brief (roughly 20 years) he left a legacy that shines bright throughout jazz history. He suffered from mental trauma in the prime of his career due to a police beating that occurred in '45 but that didn't really stop his recording but it did make his life activities erratic until he passed away in 1966.

It's commonly recommended that The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1 and 2 (Blue Note) (both sold separately) are the core records for your collection. I would tend to agree with any of my fellow jazz friends who would say this. The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1 recorded in 1951, includes songs that would later become standards in jazz songbook. Songs like "Un Poco Loco" "Bouncing With Bud," "Dance Of The Infidels," on Vol. 1 sparkle with dynamism of Bud's interaction with Sonny Rollins (sax), Fats Navarro (trumpet), Roy Haynes and Max Roach (drums on separate numbers) and the rest of the band. "Dance Of The Infidels" is the perfect example of Bud Powell's gift at the piano. It is a very complicated number which he incorporates an series of cord changes that at first listen don't sound like they go together at all but he somehow turns it into real melodic beauty. A few years after this session and before the second Amazing release, Bud would work on another legendary and contensious session with his friends, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Max Roach entitled Live At Massey Hall.

The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 2, recorded in 1955, features a trio lineup on George Duvivier (bass) and the truly under-rated Arthur Taylor (drums). This album is surrounded by covers and only two Powell originals but it is still a beautiful session. Bud and company shift through classics "Autumn In New York," "I've Got You Under My Skin," and Bud's original, "Glass Encounter". This is bebop at its finest and definitely deserves in anyone music fans collection. One of my personal favourites is "Reets And I", a killer number were the trio really let loose and you can feel each musician challenging each other. On "Polka Dots And Moonbeams" the trio (mainly Powell) turns this into a dark, dense introspective piece that really brings you closer to the pianist than ever before.

The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1 and 2 are great documents of a legend. But if you want a slightly comfortable overview (at an affordable price) you might want to look at The Definitive Bud Powell (Blue Note/Verve). It is by now means "definitive" but it covers the essential records from both labels and for that generation that might want it simple for the mp3 player, this is the one to get. Don't get me wrong--there's absolutely nothing wrong with this collection. It's brief, concise and to the point. If you don't own any Bud Powell this should suite you just fine. If you want to dig deep I suggest the aforementioned The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1 and 2.

You can also check two compilations The Best Of Bud Powell on Verve and The Best Of Bud Powell on Blue Note. These separate disc will give you a full overview of each labels materials with very little overlap. They are both a little hard to find but worth picking up when you do spot them.

One way or another you should put Bud Powell on your shopping list. If you want a true lesson into the origins of bebop, outside of Charlie Parker--Bud Powell is a great place to start.

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