Saturday, August 25, 2012

August 25: Bud Powell, The Amazing Bud Powell, Volume 1"

Artist: Bud Powell
Album: The Amazing Bud Powell
Year: 1951
Label: Blue Note

Perhaps moreso than any other genre, the world of jazz has more "giants" in its history, and this is largely due to the fact that over the course of just a few years, the genre splintered into so many sub-genres.  Throughout the 1940's and 1950's, it seemed that every few months, a new take on the jazz style was coming to the forefront, and it is due to this that it is quite difficult to give proper credit to all of those that caused this musical explosion.  However, there are a handful of performers that can be seen as absolutely essential to the overall development of music, and they represent a wide range of performance styles and instruments of choice.  In the top ranks of such a group is the great Bud Powell, and one can easily argue that he served as the main factor in the shifting of physical approach to the piano more than any other artist.  It was Powell's playing that served as the blueprint for nearly every "post-swing" piano player, and it was largely due to the fact that he ignored the traditional "purpose" of each hand on the piano and developed a completely new style in the process.  There is a freedom and tension within the playing of Powell that cannot be found elsewhere, and yet due to truly tragic circumstances, his period of expressing genius lasted a very short period of time.  However, before this set in, Bud Powell recorded some of the true "standards" of jazz, and many of his finest can be found on his 1951 release, The Amazing Bud Powell.

Every moment of The Amazing Bud Powell can be seen as outright integral in the overall development of jazz as a genre, as one can easily site the playing of Powell as the key turning point in the way that pianists approached the instrument.  Bud Powell changed up the "function" of the left hand within his playing, and this method makes his sound instantly recognizable.  This can be heard on every song found on The Amazing Bud Powell, and yet it is perhaps most apparent on any of the variations on his classic "Parisian Thoroughfare" that can be found on the re-releases of this record.  Throughout these versions, the rhythm section stays well behind Powell, and yet bassist Curly Russell is clearly in top form, doing his best to keep up with Powell's fierce pace and almost wild progression changes.  There is a great amount of soul and swing within Russell's playing on every track, and it is made even more clear by the drumming from fellow jazz legend, Max Roach.  This is without question one of Roach's finest recordings, as he seems to fly across the album, yet is able to do so without overshadowing either of his bandmates.  The speed and energy that can be felt throughout the entire run of The Amazing Bud Powell remains unmatched since, and one can only imagine what could have been had the session been completely.

However, while both Russell and Roach give some of the finest performances of their careers, it is Bud Powell who remains the focus of attention, and The Amazing Bud Powell is without question one of the two or three finest piano recordings in all of music history.  Even if one is not well versed in jazz theory or the technicalities of jazz piano, it only takes moments to realize and understand that there is "something" different going on within Powell's playing.  Not only in the sheer speed with which he navigates the composition, but there is an almost reckless freedom that one can feel, as after playing the main riff to the songs, it is quite clear that Powell simply lets the emotion of the music lead his hands.  While he does not sacrifice any quality, there had simply been no other performer who worked the piano with such an almost playful manner, and even within his own catalog, the level of sheer joy one can feel on every moment of The Amazing Bud Powell remains unrivaled.  It is this speed and mood which make the songs so superb, and from the warm images to the fact that the trio successfully imply a "stop and go" feeling, without ever actually making such literal rhythmic movements, there is simply no other recording of this nature.  The sense of freedom and joy that can be heard throughout Bud Powell's The Amazing Bud Powell may seem "run of the mill" by today's standards, but one must look at the overall history of jazz to understand that it was his playing that caused this to become the norm.

Yet one can dig even deeper into the stylistic realities of Bud Powell's musical approach, and many rightfully make the case that due to the way in which he often worked single notes into long progressions, Powell was a close musical relative of Charlie Parker.  One can even go as far as saying that Powell was the first to properly interpret Parker's style on another instrument, and yet his style remains completely distinctive.  Unlike a majority of his peers and predecessors, one can detect which hand is working the piano at a given time, and it is in this fact that one can hear how rarely Powell uses his left hand for the traditional practice of bringing the chords of a given piece.  This almost stripped-down approach to the piano serves as one of the clear turning points in jazz music, as nearly every performer that followed took at least some aspect of Powell's performance style and integrated it into their own.  To this end, though the best known version of "Parisian Thoroughfare" is cut short, there is so much energy and power flowing between the trio of performers that one cannot help but get caught up in the playing, and it is one of the few recordings that can truly transport a listener back to the studio space.  For so many reasons, one cannot understate the overall importance of Bud Powell, and one need look no further than his tremendous 1951 recording, The Amazing Bud Powell, to completely understand just why he remains such an icon of jazz music.

No comments: