If Oscar Peterson's piano style is like a painter creating a landscape out of swirls and dabs of colorful paint, Bud Powell's approach is more like a sculptor working with a slab of black marble. Powell too is influenced by Tatum, but only as filtered through Monk; whereas Peterson always seemed driven to create perfect renditions of songs, Powell always seemed to be wrestling with personal problems, sawing away at melodies as away of expressing him innermost thoughts. Consider each pianist's approach to "Sweet Georgia Brown"; Peterson's is all about style and finesse; Powell rips through it fiendishly with avalanches of arpeggios and ragged chords, daring your ears to keep up.
Tragically, Powell received a racially motivated beating early on in his career that caused the mental disturbances that kept him in and out of mental hospitals his entire life. Legend has it that in one of these hospitals Powell drew a piano keyboard on the wall with chalk in order to practice away from his instrument. As Powell got older, his condition worsened, and tags like "Genius" and "Amazing" on albums contain a hint of pathos as a result; did we ever truly know what his talents were?
At any rate, Bud Powell has left a commendable recorded legacy behind, most of which is overshadowed by the brilliance of his work for Blue Note. However, he also recorded some very impressive early work for Norman Granz, much of which is equal or surpasses the quality of those historic sessions without the multiple takes (the two sessions on Jazz Giant straddles the Blue Note work, for the most part.) The first session was recorded under slightly dour circumstances; Powell was undergoing treatment at a mental hospital, unable to play live, and was only released during the day for a limited time to record. This undoubtedly left Powell frustrated and as such, an aggressive, almost furious urgency dominates these sessions; it's like watching a pot of water right before it boils over. He barrels through "Tempus Fugit" before you
Tempus Fugit, Celia, Cherokee, I'll Keep Loving You, Strictly Confidential, All God's Chillun Got Rhythm, So Sorry Please, Get Happy, Sometimes I'm Happy, Sweet Georgia Brown, Yesterdays, April In Paris, Body and Soul.
Bud Powell, piano; Ray Brown, Curly Russell, bass; Max Roach, drums.