Bud Powell – Live At The Blue Note Café, Paris 1961 (2014 reissue)

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Bud Powell’s Paris years (1959-1963) found the highly influential bebop pianist about ten years past the peak of his powers, and his notoriously tragic mental condition had begun to diminish the consistency his performances. But he seemed composed and on the mark for this collection of sets at the famed Blue Note Café in Paris, where he with drummer Kenny Clarke and bassist Pierre Michelot made their home base throughout most of 1960 and 1961 when they weren’t on tours and festivals.

This ESP-Disk reissue — which went on sale October 28, 2014 — puts back into circulation an album originally issued on vinyl at some unknown date but probably a few years after Powell’s 1966 death.

Tenor sax great Zoot Sims made the trio a quartet for the first three numbers recorded at the beginning of 1961; the remaining, trio performances were taped sometime later the same year. Sims’ signature cool tone puts a steadfast swing into “Groovin’ High,” and Powell follows along a similar vibe on his extended solo. But the guy making most of the racket is Clarke, who’s playing like it’s 1948, and his innovative ride cymbals keep the proceedings humming along no matter if Powell is feeling spry (“Shaw Nuff”, “52nd Street Theme”) or just wanting to hang back and swing easy (“There Will Never Be Another You”).

With the repertoire including a healthy amount of cohorts Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk mixed in with sturdy show tune standards, Powell is playing songs he’s mastered years before, which surely helped in the steady performances of them; “Round Midnight,” for instance is performed with the mastery of its moody melody that only Monk himself could top.

None of this would matter nearly as much if the gigs weren’t captured on tape well enough. Fortunately, they are, with nice spacing and a well-done mix. Aside from some brief channel flipping on Sims’ sax on the opening track, it’s hard to spot the flaws in the engineering especially considering the time frame and the possible bootleg origin of these recordings.

Perhaps not quite as amazing as his fabled sides for Blue Note Records, but Bud Powell’s Live At The Blue Note Café, Paris 1961 is plenty good enough to make any jazzbo wish they’d have been there.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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