Friday, December 05, 2014

CD Review: Bud Powell - Live at the Blue Note Cafe Paris 1961

Bud Powell
Live at the Blue Note Cafe, Paris 1961

This album marks the second reissue by ESP of live Bud Powell recordings this year, following the three-disc Birdland 1953 set of radio recordings that appeared earlier. While the pianist's output after 1954 is considered inconsistent, thanks in part to his mental instability, here he shows no signs on weakness, playing with sympathetic musicians (French bassist Pierre Michelot and American expatriate Kenny Clarke) who know how to lock in with him. Additionally, several tracks capture him stretching out, which is exciting to anyone used to hearing Powell in the three- to five-minute format.

The same year as these performances, Cannonball Adderley produced a Powell session for Columbia Records called A Portrait of Thelonious that featured four compositions by his good friend. Monk was clearly on his mind and in his set that year. "Thelonious" sounds particularly compelling because of the way Clarke accents the melody so tightly, right in the pocket with Powell, who adds the appropriate spark to the simple melody. While the composer recorded that tune several times, it rarely possessed this kind of interaction in tandem with his musical personality.

"Monk's Mood," a lesser known ballad with an equally lush and deceptive line, sounds strong too. "Round Midnight" was well on its way to becoming a jazz standard, but Powell keeps it fresh by attacking the chords with gravity.

The first three tracks on the album augment the trio with tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. They stretch out on "Groovin' High," which includes two separate solos by Powell. "Taking a Chance on Love" gives everyone blowing time, with the pianist's melodic ideas sounding especially crisp and concise. Sims' subdued, somewhat smoky tone fits right in with the trio, most notably on the "Bud Blues," a mid-tempo 12-bar workout that segues into the set-closer "52nd Street Theme," another Monk tune. Bebop vehicle "Shaw Nuff" was the rapid tune that proved the mettle of players during this time, and Powell definitely flies here.

The sound quality is strong throughout the set, which is a good part of the reason this session sounds so rewarding: Michelot's strong walking line is heard clearly in a track like "Bud Blues," Clarke's bomb drops put Powell's creativity in high relief and, overall, the leader seems to have an unending, focused well of ideas. More than simply another collection of jazz evergreens, this album provides another worthy addition to the Powell canon from a time when he was still firing on all cylinders.

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