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Bud Powell: Live in Lausanne 1962

No other musician-not Dizzy Gillespie, not even Charlie Parker-exemplified bebop’s extremes of rhythm, harmony and broken phrasing as much as pianist Bud Powell. These two CD discoveries date from a few years after his Verve and Blue Note classics. By the late 1950s and early 1960 the likes of Monk, Cecil Taylor and Bill Evans had the attention of the jazz world while the tragic Powell was in Paris, in poor health and largely forgotten. While his mood on these CDs varies from session to session, the sense of tragedy is absent. On the contrary, Powell is usually wonderfully fertile with ideas and his purposefulness is unmistakable-as is his mastery, for at all tempos even the tiniest piano notes ring clearly. His variety of phrase shape and accenting is utterly breathtaking as he presents a sophisticated, varied sense of form, here setting up vivid lines of contrasting phrases, there spinning strain after strain of motivic development. Recordings such as these prove that Powell, even in “decline,” was among the very best pianists of the day.

Paris Sessions originally appeared on the short-lived Mythic Sounds label. It starts with a 1963 studio date in which Powell’s flow of melody is unperturbed by the occasionally strange crashing of swing drummer Kansas Fields. The program is divided between a largely successful Ellington tribute and originals-“Rue de Clichy,” especially, is a characteristically charming Powell theme with conflicting feelings. The more sympathetic Kenny Clarke drums elsewhere on the CD, which was compiled from five nightclub sets recorded with variable sound quality between 1957 and 1964. The obsessive Powell emerges in brilliant, relentless melodies at incredibly fast tempos in “Get Happy,” “John’s Abbey” and “Be Bop”-these tightrope walks are exhausting to hear and were surely more exhausting, physically and emotionally, to improvise. Four guests (trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and tenorists Barney Wilen, Zoot Sims and Johnny Griffin) play well on three tunes. Especially, hear how Griffin sounds clever and undisciplined while by contrast, Powell achieves similar harmonic extremes while playing lovely melodies with flowing grace.

Live in Lausanne 1962 is even better, and the recording quality is fine. No ultraviolent tempos this time, but rather a program of bop standards in which passion, imagination and intellect unite to yield seemingly inexhaustible creation. Again the music is turbulent with conflicting moods. Yet paradoxically, Powell is relaxed at the fast tempo of “Evidence,” with sustained developments and an immensely free rhythmic push-pull, while I can’t imagine a more eventful blues than his 21 improvised choruses on “Billie’s Bounce.” His faster pieces offer great tension of broken phrases and juxtaposed textures, but the two excellent ballads do not offer a calm escape: “‘Round Midnight” proceeds with opposing right and left hands, while a certain harmonic toughness in his thick chords makes “I Remember Clifford” a moving tribute. Here’s a cheer for the accompaniment by bassist Bob Jaquillard and drummer Mike Stevenot, who get a few brief chances to solo.

Thanks to Celia Powell, Bud’s daughter, for discovering this recording, and to producer Chick Corea.

Originally Published