After establishing iconic status as the first great bop pianist in the 1940s, Bud Powell was plagued by both mental illness and a fondness for, to borrow his mentor Charlie Parker's famous phrase, "a little sherry before dinner." As a result his output was vastly uneven. Catch Powell right and he is brimfull of energy and ideas. Catch him wrong and, while the technique is there, his playing falls flat and lacks inspirationit can even be a downright mess. Powell's move to Europe in 1959 gave him a new lease of life. This album, recorded in 1962, features Powell close to his best, scatting and growling happily as he plays with his old, rediscovered fire. Originally titled Bouncing With Bud, it has been released on different labels over the years, before emerging in Storyville's excellent In Copenhagen series. Powell is backed by the phenomenal bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, astonishingly just 15 at the time, and a self-effacing drummer, William Schiopffe.
The opener, "Rifftide," based on the chords of "Lady Be Good," dates back to 1945 when Powell was in his 20s and had just left Cootie Williams to take his place in the jazz revolution on 52nd Street. Just a year later, by which time he had absorbed Charlie Parker's ideas into his playing, his composition, "Bouncing With Bud" was being recorded by Sonny Stitt (as "Bebop In Pastel") and, more famously, in 1949 (under its correct title) by a quintet that included Sonny Rollins and Fats Navarro. The version here is claimed to be the first ever trio recording of the song.
The main part of the album comprises Powell's takes on tunes by fellow boppers. These include Tadd Dameron's "Hot House," the first time he's played it on record since the famous Massey Hall concert with Parker and Gillespie in 1953. Then there's Denzil Best's "Move" and, most interestingly, Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" and "52nd Street Theme."
Powell pays jaunty tribute to such pre-bop influences as Earl Hines on Irving Berlin's "The Best Thing For You," obliterating memories of a disastrous 1955 recording he made of the same song. The only ballad, Benny Golson's magnificent "I Remember Clifford," is given a sensitive, very slow and lyrical treatment, a welcome break from all the up-tempo pyrotechnics. This album documents a troubled genius seeking and finding reconciliation with his past. Grateful thanks to Storyville for putting it back in circulation.
Rifftide; Bouncing With Bud; Move; The Best Thing For You; Straight, No Chaser, I Remember Clifford; Hot House; 52nd Street Theme.
Bud Powell: piano; Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen: bass; William Schiopffe: drums.
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