Bob Powell: Anthology

Mark Sabbatini By

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Someone keeping score might notice my reviews of online albums tend to be more positive than traditional CDs. The main reason is I focus largely on quality discoveries, since lousy stuff is easily found without assistance.

But sometimes you have to warn people.

Bob Powell's Anthology may be one of the very best or very worst offerings in the Internet Archive's collection of open source jazz albums . The pitch is irresistible - basically a free 62-song boxed set representing work from 1975 to 2001 by a musician who "paint(s) a landscape of musical folklore" in highly eclectic fashion. A "warning" at the site is further enticement, noting "this body of work covers many genres (some unclassifiable) and there is no possible way to list them all here in a logical sequence. Bob Powell Anthology will not interest you if you are a fan of only one specific genre."

There is no question Anthology is a collection of many things. But something a typical jazz listener will cotton to is not one of them.

The archive folks probably would better serve surfers by putting this in a different category than jazz listings, maybe wherever music for 1960s-era acid parties is kept. For the most part this is horrifically inharmonious rock/grunge/techno ramblings with Powell often sounding like he was recorded underwater. I imagine a fair number of people question if he has any talent at all, or simply was born a generation too early to be featured on "American Idol." My thinking is those who have chops perform; pretenders put out awful stuff under the guise of "poetry" or "experimentation."

Of course, anyone who reads the site description and downloads all the tracks without listening to any first probably deserves disappointment. But those willing to endure the entire marathon will discover there are actually some tracks worth listening to and indicate Powell is something less than a total fraud.

Most of the better instrumentals are toward the end of the collection, so downloading the final dozen songs or so is recommended initially if you insist on sampling the wares. If you don't like these there's no chance the earlier material will be tolerable. If you do, well, maybe it's best to quit while ahead, but a handful of the remaining selections might earn their keep.

"In The Garden" features Powell playing a soothing high-tone harmonic melody on top of a mellow folk-blues finger strum. "Lavender Escape" features a simple electric guitar lead and minimal backing that could be one of the mood music ballads on a Rippingtons album (Powell would doubtless hate this characterization). "Don't Fear What You Can't See" is a chance for hard rock types to indulge in Powell's chord crunching. Elsewhere in the collection one can hear a few songs where he plays unaccompanied ethnic percussion, random ambient noises that might appeal to the trance crowd and indulging in some a capella madness.

Powell's site notes he "lives in self imposed exile working on solo projects and does not believe in collaboration or groups of any kind." With so many quality offerings online these days it seems reasonable for most listeners to bypass Anthology and do what he seems to want most - be left alone.

Visit Bob Powell on the web.


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