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The Amazing Bud Powell, Volumes 1 and 2 – Blue Note 1503 and 1504

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In the pantheon of bebop's Founding Fathers, there are three giants. Everyone knows Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
and Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
. Everyone forgets Bud Powell
Bud Powell
Bud Powell
1924 - 1966
piano
.

Like Bird and Diz, Powell could spit out notes faster than anyone before or since. Also like Bird and Diz, Powell sometimes fell in love with his own speed, so some recordings became exercises in ridiculously frantic keyboard runs because... well, he could.

Fortunately, these two early Powell discs emphasize the quirky, fun, inventive Bud Powell. While no pianist was ever quite as quirky and original as Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
, Powell might place a close second.

The two CDs chronicle three recording sessions from 1949, 1951 and 1953—first a quintet of traditional bop with Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
1923 - 1950
trumpet
and Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
, second a trio with Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
b.1926
drums
or Max Roach
Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
drums
on drums, and third (all of disc 2) a trio with bassist George Duvivier and Art Taylor
Art Taylor
Art Taylor
1929 - 1995
drums
. All are fun.

The highlight of Volume 1 is three takes of the Powell original "Un Poco Loco" with the Roach trio. I'm not a fan of alternate takes—too often they're too alike—but here you can actually hear the evolution of a classic. On Take 1, Powell is clearly fumbling around with his solos, trying anything, mostly short snippets that go nowhere. Eventually, he gives up. On Take 2, Powell is obviously running with new ideas. And on Take 3, he's got it—a final, finished product. No melodic excursion here. With Roach doing a Latin-tinged tap-a-tap-a-tap tap on the cymbals, Powell creates odd flourishes and angular riffs. It is, in short, unique—an overused word, but in this case, apt.

The highlight of Volume 2 comes on the very first two tunes. "Autumn in New York" starts with a furious, stormy pounding of chords and sheets of rain in the right hand, followed by a pretty melody and wonderful interplay between the piano and bass. The very next tune, "Reets and I," is the kind of jaunty, toe-tapping bop that makes 1950s jazz so much fun.

Yep, I said "fun" three times. These are fun records. Parker was fun, Gillespie was fun, bebop is fun. What's wrong with that?

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Many copies on Amazon, new and used

Cost: Under $4 each used

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