For the uninitiated, "Paris Sessions" may not the best place to begin. For those, it’s best to listen first to the Verve and Blue Note recordings of the late 1940s and early 1950s. For others, this is a fascinating document that argues some of his work in exile certainly merits careful consideration.
As a result of mental instability and physical deterioration, Powell’s later work in France between 1957 and 1963 can be a muddled but sometimes sparkling affair. His Parisian travails are painfully recounted in Francis Paudras’ memoir, "Dance of the Infidels." Paudras propped up Powell in Paris during his later years leading to a brief, glorious, but ultimately disastrous, return to New York in 1964.
"Paris Sessions" is a sampling of the twelve-volume Paudras-produced work and therefore presents some of the brightest jewels of this period. These shimmering pieces are recorded live in Parisian clubs. Powell is luminously supported on many of the pieces by bassist Pierre Michelot and drummer Kenny Clarke with guest appearances by Zoot Sims and Dizzy Gillespie.
"Get Happy’ may not be as well recorded as the others but it is an incredible piece of how intense Powell can play. It is so fast; it’s nearly out of control. It’s both manic and brilliant. Similarly, ‘Bud on Bach’ is a fascinating rumination on the old master’s work. He pays tribute to another master, Duke Ellington, on ‘Perdido,’ ‘Satin Doll,’ "I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)’ and a piece that could have been written by Ellington, ‘Tune for Duke.’ ‘How High the Moon’ ripples with joy with Gillespie’s trumpet-work.
Bud Powell is one of those artists that everyone should be exposed to. Not only is his music brilliant, it also reveals that muddy line between madness and genius. "Paris Sessions" is a beautiful, troubling document.