Bud Powell: Live at the Blue Note Cafe, Paris 1961 & In Copenhagen


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Bud Powell
Live at the Blue Note Cafe, Paris 1961

Bud Powell
In Copenhagen

Pianist Bud Powell's music is often buried in his tragic personal history, so much so that his story is best known through the film Round Midnight, where his character is transmogrified into a saxophonist memorably played by Dexter Gordon. Mental illness—at least partially caused by a savage police beating in 1945—and drug and alcohol abuse, plus a bout with tuberculosis, made the last half of his 42-year life a hapless tragedy that took a toll on his, at its best, mercurial playing. But every performance of his later years was by no means a disaster, as these two CDs, capturing performances in Europe (where he lived in the early '60s) between early 1961 and April 1962, make abundantly evident.

The Paris Blue Note was an intermittent home to Powell's trio with fellow expatriate and bebop pioneer Kenny "Klook" Clarke (drums) and the French bassist Pierre Michelot. Live at the Blue Note Cafe, Paris 1961 captures two sets, the first a quartet with tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. The murky mic'ing of the piano and muddy mix explain why it has not been widely circulated before. The later-in-the-year trio set boasts much better sound and balance. Sims is the undisputed star of the first portion, asserting his bop-oriented swing, especially on "Taking a Chance on Love." "Groovin' High" peaks with exhilarating sax-piano-drum trades and the riff tune "Bud's Blues" proves that less can be more with compelling solos. The trio set leans heavily on Monk, with a very faithful "Thelonious," a maximally dramatic "Round Midnight" and a "Monk's Mood" perfectly sync'ed to its composer's sense of time, complete with deliberate hesitations and rushes.

In Copenhagen brings the Powell-plus-Danes trio that was working in that city into the studio, including the then 15-year-old bass prodigy Niels-Henning Șrsted Pedersen and drummer William Schiopffe. Except for Irving Berlin's "The Best Thing for You," delivered with an early Erroll Garner flourish, the Copenhagen set is all tunes by jazzmen of the era. Powell's own "Bouncing with Bud" is a standout, the pianist demonstrating his fertile melodic imagination in fluid, flowing single note lines comprised of bar length-defying phrases and movement across multiple octaves. Monk's malleable time sense is again mined on "Straight No Chaser," while Powell's probing intensity makes "I Remember Clifford" searingly memorable. Denzil Best's "Move," taken at a speedway tempo, has Powell in creative overdrive and on Tadd Dameron's "Hot House" his dexterity allows for double-fingering and shadow tones that belie the strict single-note-line theory of bebop piano attributed to him. And finally, Aarsted Pedersen's participation is nothing short of remarkable—more fleet and adventurous than Michelot, he's also assertive in his solos. It all makes for one of the best late career recordings of a troubled jazz legend.

Tracks and Personnel

Live at the Blue Note Cafe, Paris 1961

Tracks: There Will Never Be Another You; Thelonious; 'Round Midnight; A Night in Tunisia; Monk's Mood; Shaw 'Nuff; Lover Man; Theme.

Personnel: Bud Powell: piano; Pierre Michelot: bass; Kenny Clarke: drums; Zoot Sims: tenor saxophone.

In Copenhagen

Tracks: Rifftide; Bouncing With Bud; Move; The Best Thing For You; Straight, No Chaser, I Remember Clifford; Hot House; 52nd Street Theme.

Personnel: Bud Powell: piano; Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen: bass; William Schiopffe: drums.

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