Sunday, June 05, 2011

Bud Powell, "Un Poco Loco"

Earl Rudolph "Bud" Powell, 1924-1966.

"Un Poco Loco," recorded in 1951, is one of the first pieces by Bud Powell I ever heard. Powell on piano and Roach on drums are stunning.

A nice musical portrait of Powell appears in this 1995 New York Times piece:
Powell's was a Romantic's imagination delivered with a classicist's precision and an awesome, sometimes frightening, intensity. A lifelong Bach devotee, he saw in the contrapuntal bent of the pre-Romantic composers a fitting vehicle for the percussive jazz sensibility -- not for nothing did he name one of his tunes "Tempis Fugue-It." In a rhythm section, he positioned himself at the center of a constantly evolving group counterpoint, inserting surgical-strike chords at strategic places while staying out of the way of soloists who were thinking, as he was, in longer phrases.

As a soloist, Powell owned a superhuman technique that allowed him percussively to pop syncopated accents out of long lines of eighth notes, often at blindingly fast tempos. By doing so, he was able to deliver jazz's characteristic accenting, its rhythmic DNA, into a more complex musical universe; rhythmic patterns that might have appeared 10 years earlier as big-band riffs showed up in Powell's work as the accented notes in long, serpentine melodic lines.

The heart, soul and most of the body of Powell's achievement is contained in the nine compact disks that make up the Blue Note and Verve sets. Powell was an erratic performer, plagued by mental illness for many of what should have been his ripest working years. Both sets document a decline in his work after 1953, as his hot, sharp conception and attack became dulled and blunted by God knows what demons. Although Powell at his weakest could be more thought-provoking than many pianists at their best, some of the music on both sets is painful to listen to.

Happily, the sets also document Powell at the absolute peak of his powers. Eight 1947 trio sides recorded for the small Roost label and included on the Blue Note set are definitive of Powell's style; on up-tempo tracks like "Bud's Bubble" and George Gershwin's "Nice Work if You Can Get It," a brilliant, feverish technique works at full tilt in the service of an amazingly fecund imagination. Also included are some classic tunes recorded at a 1949 session with the trumpeter Fats Navarro and a young Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone and several takes of Powell's 1951 masterpiece "Un Poco Loco." Both the Blue Note and the Verve sets italicize Powell's talents as a composer as well as a virtuoso performer.

The Verve set, which contains a booklet full of interviews and rare photographs, consists almost entirely of trio performances from the mid-1950's, which vary wildly in quality but are never less than absorbing. The first of the five disks, however, features wall-to-wall classics, including eight stunning 1951 solo tracks on which Powell is an acrobat on an electrified high wire; on tracks like "Hallucinations," "The Fruit" and the exultantly swinging "Parisian Thoroughfare," he shows why he was the idol of every young pianist for the next decade and beyond. Without Bud Powell, the work of Tommy Flanagan, Wynton Kelly, Sonny Clark, Oscar Peterson and Chick Corea, as well as contemporaries like Benny Green, Stephen Scott, Eric Reed and Michael Weiss, would sound very different indeed.
Some nice quotes from other musicians about Bud:
He was the foundation out of which stemmed the whole edifice of modern jazz piano; every jazz pianist since Bud either came through him or is deliberately attempting to get away from playing like him.

     Herbie Hancock

If I had to choose a single musician according to his artistic merit and the originality of his creation, but also for the greatness of his work, it would be Bud Powell. Nobody could measure up to him.

     Bill Evans

No one could play like Bud; too difficult, too quick, incredible!

     Thelonious Monk

Bud was the most brilliant that a spirit might be, a unique genius in our culture.

     Max Roach

He laid down the basis of modern jazz piano.

     Dizzy Gillespie

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