Online since August 2002

Still full of punch

From the Spring 2003 issue.

Paris Sessions
Paris Sessions
By Bud Powell

Pablo Records: 2002

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

The record companies are mining the vaults, bringing up forgotten and/or previously unissued material from some of the giants of jazz. Some of it should never have seen the light of day; but other stuff – like this "Paris Sessions" CD – are necessary additions to the legacies of the greats.

The classic sides cut by pianist Bud Powell – one of the founding fathers of bebop – have all been issued on CD: his trio work with drummer Max Roach and bassist Ray Brown, the sides with trumpeter Fats Navarro and sax man Sonny Rollins – all from the late 1940s, early '50s. All of this has long been available. Classics, from one of the greatest of innovators.

Bud Powell's powers declined after the mid-'50s, though, due in part to "mental problems," difficulties compounded by the piano man's legendary tete ta tete – resulting in his ending up on the wrong end of a billy club – with a couple of stupidly brutal cops; a beating that did physical damage to the neurology of an already tenuous personality.

In spite of his decline – personally, musically – Powell enjoyed something of a recording renaissance in Paris in the late '50s/early '60s, when Frenchman Francis Paudras took the expatriate pianist under his wing. And that's where "Paris Sessions" comes in.

This is the late '50s/early '60s, and isn't Powell at his late '40s peak, when he was full of fire and innovation – but these are fine efforts that showcase the man in a looser atmosphere than that of his heyday. Freed from the constraints of the three minute-and-change limits of the 78 RPM record, Powell soars. Indeed, the first six cuts – tunes by Ellington, or associated with him, or dedicated to the Duke – are hugely successful outings in the looser atmosphere, due to the fluidity the expanded time frame lends to the pianist's approach. Great stuff; sort of free-flung, almost classic.

Speaking of classics: after the initial six tunes, there's "Taking a Chance on Love" with tenor sax man Zoot Sims sounding happily ragged and relaxed blowing around Bud's crisp percussion – the highlight of the disc for me. And then Dizzy Gillespie sits in on "How High the Moon," sharp on the descending scale as always; and tenor man Johnny Griffin moans on an after-hours take on the classic "Body and Soul."

Maybe it's not Powell at his peak; but he sounds great – relaxed and assured, loose and very focused on this thing called jazz. Powell fans will have to have this one; and with the Ellington tinge – and Dizzy and Zoot and Johnny – it would be a fine introduction to jazz.

Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.

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