This mini chronicle of the musical magic of Bud Powell was recorded live at the beginning and at the end of his career. The opening six tunes were recorded live at the Royal Roost in New York City on December 19, 1948. More than half a century later the music captured that night sounds as exciting as it must have been for those lucky enough to have actually witnessed the performances.It isn’t until six songs in that legendary scribe Leonard Feather introduced Powell as the Bop King of the Keyboards. The youngster was up to the distinction.
It’s interesting to hear these young lions -- Benny Harris (trumpet), J.J. Johnson, Lee Konitz (alto), Cecil Payne (baritone), Buddy DeFranco (clarinet), Chuck Wayne (guitar), Nelson Boyd (bass), Max Roach -- in their developmental stages. DeFranco and Powell trade licks throughout "Perdido," with only unison riffing offered by the other players. On "(Back Home Again In) Indiana," it is the thoroughly awesome young J.J. Johnson who carries the bulk of the tune. By "Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid," though, Powell, Lee Konitz, Budd Johnson and Cecil Payne exert themselves. Powell’s solo is relaxed, assured and fiery, and the audience shows vocal appreciation before the full band takes it out in unison. "I’ll Be Seeing You" opens with Powell solo before Johnson breaks in with a heart-melting extended break. Feather calls Powell the first pianist to play bop on the piano, before Powell explodes into what certainly sounds like the work of a groundbreaking genius on "52nd Street." It’s ironic that he plays his rival’s tune, but no surprise that he plays the heck out of it. This is extraordinary piano, quick fingered and quick witted, every bit as impressive as Monk at his best. It is only the amazing Max Roach who also takes a solo on the piece. The band shines on Bird’s "Ornithology." Budd Johnson blows up a storm, though DeFranco and J.J. Johnson gives the veteran a run for his money. Powell takes an extended solo before again yielding to DeFranco and then to Chuck Wayne and finally back to the veteran Budd Johnson.
"Blues in the Closet" was recorded with Pierre Michelot (bass) and the great bop drummer Kenny Clarke at the Club St. Germain in Paris in 1959. Powell is clear-headed and inventive on this live date, though perhaps just a dab less fiery. The advantage of modern technology, 1959-style, worked in the trio’s favor. When they returned to Paris the following year to record "Now’s the Time" and "Confirmation," Powell’s playing is exquisite, as he fires off nimble-fingered lines on the abbreviated takes of the familiar tunes.
The final four tunes were recorded at la Belle Escale, a hotel restaurant in Edenville, France, in August 1964. Ironically, the sound quality almost matches the 1948 sessions. Powell’s playing is impressive enough, though not particularly inspired. A young Johnny Griffith cooks on "Hot House," though it is just Powell with bassist Jacques Gervais and drummer Guy Hayat who work out the final pieces. As Ted Panken points out in his excellent liner notes, the piano was seriously out of tune, but one gets the sense that Powell, then just approaching 40, was weary of playing what must have been a rote set. Consequently, "Lady Bird" and the closing "I Remember Clifford" sound lackluster. Given the power of the 1948 live set and the first Paris sessions, though, this is almost a minor complaint. Bud Powell was a genius. Minus the final four cuts, this is clear evidence of that fact.