Bud Powell: The Amazing Bud Powell Vols. 1 and 2

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Under the heading of the "Rudy Van Gelder Edition" series, Blue Note is once again re-releasing some of its most important records.

The series takes its name from the legendary recording engineer who taped most of the label's classic 1950s and 60s sessions. All the CDs are remastered by Van Gelder himself and sound—just as his LP masters from the 1950s and 60s did—rich, warm and wonderful.

The latest batch of Van Gelders is unusual, however, in that they weren't originally recorded by Van Gelder, but other engineers. These sessions date from Blue Note's earliest days, before label founder Alfred Lion employed Van Gelder to oversee, and in many ways, create the label's distinctive sound.

So, these sessions see Van Gelder updating not his own recordings, but the works of Blue Note engineers who preceded him. In some cases Van Gelder is updating the sound not just from tapes but the lacquer disks used to produce old 78s. You couldn't pick a more appropriate, or skilled, person to bring these sessions into the digital era.

The Powell sessions originally were engineered by Doug Hawkins in 1949, 1951 and 1953, and are among the pianist's most important recordings. They're a must for any serious jazz listener and, in these latest versions, sound better than they've ever sounded before. These new collections are an improvement, even, on the complete Blue Note Powell box set that came out a few years ago and include alternate takes not available on that set. Completists can at least take heart in the fact that these latest versions are relatively cheap. I've seen them available for $8 or $9 a pop.

There's a tendency on early bebop recordings for drums and especially cymbals to sound like frying bacon. There's some hiss here and there—particularly on the '49 sessions remastered from lacquer—but the various parts of the drum kit on this remastering sound clear and distinct. (And what great drummers! The different sessions include work by Roy Haynes, Art Taylor and Max Roach.) Bass, which sometimes gets lost on older recordings, is very present and warm. The 1951 session features a very young Sonny Rollins on tenor sax playing alongside blazing trumpeter Fats Navarro. Very nice work all around.

And, thanks to the remastering, Powell sounds more incredible than ever.

Troubled throughout his life by emotional and mental health difficulties, Powell had recently undergone electric shock treatment before his earliest Blue Note sessions. Yet none of that inner turmoil is apparent on these dates. Powell's playing is joyful, incredibly confident and fluid.

The tunes include what would become bebop standards by Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Powell himself. His originals include “Una Poco Loco” with inventive tomtom work by Roach, the classical-influenced “Glass Enclosure,” and the funky “Collard Greens and Black-eyed Peas”—a blueprint for the earthy, gospel-influenced hard bop that would later become Blue Note's hallmark.

The sets are rounded out by standards: a beautiful, solo rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," a Latin-tinged "I've Got You Under My Skin," and a stately, rhapsodic "Autumn in New York."

There are plenty of alternate takes—generally too much of a good thing on most reissues, but a treat on albums by improvisers as inventive as Powell. Listening to how his performances change from take to take is both rewarding and fun. I'm not crazy about hearing the same tune three times in a row, though, and was pleased that Blue Note chose to sequence all the master takes as a group and then follow them up with the various alternates. It's easy to skip over or program out the alternates if you wish.

If you don't have these sessions in your collection, this is the perfect time to pick them up. If you're a Powell completist, you'll be out some more money but it's well worth it.

Track Listing: Vol. 1:Bouncing With Bud; Wail; Dance Of The Infidels; 52nd Street Theme; You Go To My Head; Ornithology; Bouncing With Bud (alt.); Bouncing With Bud (alt.); Wail (alt.); Dance Of The Infidels (alt.); Ornithology (alt.); Un Poco Loco; Over The Rainbow; A Night In Tunisia; It Could Happen To You; Parisian Thoroughfare; Un Poco Loco (alt.); Un Poco Loco (alt.); A Night In Tunisia (alt.); It Could Happen To You (alt.)

Vol. 2:Autumn In New York; Reets And I; Sure Thing; Collard Greens And Black-Eyed Peas; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; I Want To Be Happy; Audrey; Glass Enclosure; I've Got You Under My Skin; Autumn In New York (Alt. Take #1); Autumn In New York (Alt. Take #2); Reets And I (Alt. Take #1); Reets And I (Alt. Take #2); Sure Thing; Collard Greens And Black-Eyed Peas (Alt. Take)

Personnel: Vol. 1:Bud Powell (piano); Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Fats Navarro (trumpet); Tommy Potter, Curley Russell (bass); Roy Haynes, Max Roach (drums).

Vol. 2:Bud Powell (piano); George Duvivier, Curley Russell (bass); Art Taylor, Max Roach (drums).

Title: The Amazing Bud Powell Vols. 1 and 2 | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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