Bud Powell: Eternity

Bud Powell

This is a CD of Bud Powell playing solo for a friend, a selection of consistent performances deficient mainly in the sound quality of the last couple tracks, as well as some occasional slight thinning of the recorded piano tone. It’s of definite individual musical interest. Late Powell is remarkably solid, individual, with his own solo technique that young men might learn from. The occasional, hardly-audible rhythmic support simply reinforced the pianist’s internal rhythmic pulse.

“Spring Is Here” has quotes or echoes of “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” at the start, plus some Tatum runs, until Powell gets into a slow stride vamp, or its chordal equivalent. Whereupon the tape runs out. He certainly hadn’t finished that one, but the sudden stop doesn’t happen again. “Shaw ‘Nuff” is delightful, with the left hand doing I couldn’t say what. It really keeps the bouncy tempo and bottom end of the music going, while Powell maintains a nice pace in the left, with a few very rapid darting phrases thrown in. There’s a more obvious underlying rhythm to “A Night in Tunisia”, which is distinguished by Powell’s ability to shadow his right hand playing with a bass part, coining a nice two-handed pianistic fullness — this is not top-heavy or top-overlight stuff, and he maintains momentum. “Joshua’s Blues” benefits somewhat from Francis Paudras’s un-intrusive time-keeping on brushes. It’s a standard Bud Powell sort of blues.

“Round Midnight” has a lower sound level, and like the next two titles, comes from 1962. The playing has more obvious fluency, with a couple of thoughts of playing fancier runs which just get stopped. The fluency abates as the pianist goes into an interesting variation. This performance is an interesting stripping down of the tune, which has an underlying slow ‘oom-pah’ the left hand hardly ever completes, the ‘pah’ being variously implied by right hand harmonies.

The chorded bits opening “I Hear Music” have a lot of energy. Powell sounds nicely relaxed going into a linear bit in the right hand, managing to keep a contra-dance in the left, and happily the barking sound of his singalong is muffled. He rolls back into the chordal performance of the theme and plays out in far from commonplace style.

The Tatum style comes back in “Someone to Watch Over Me”, where Powell sounds as if he’s rehearsing an introduction with shifts of chording duties between the respective fingers of each hand. It’s a nice into-and-out-of-tempo ballad, the playing gathering pace as it swells into the vocal line’s tune and breathing into a pause where the accompaniment would normally fill in. There seems to be some joking in the thoroughness with which the gentle single note runs are played, not least the self-parodic one inserted in the finale of the performance, which plays out with the opening of the Kentucky anthem and a smile.

He sounds like a tone parallel to Thelonious Monk on several items; the same sort of expressiveness but not the Monkian harmonies. “I’ll Keep Loving You” (1961 again) has him playing with both hands and doing the work with the inside fingers of his chording hands.

“Idaho” proceeds at a brisk walk, cheerfully, as if remembering the great Blue Note performance of the tune on an LP with Curtis Fuller, where Powell went into full-blown stride piano. His own much newer “Blues for Bouffement” (1960) has a lot of traditional features and a weight of sound not exactly common among pianists. George Foreman plays Ray Charles? He gets a great ringing sound with his address to the keyboard, even playing around with 1940s R&B licks.

“The name of this tune is ‘Deep Night'”, he says, before launching into an upper-medium-tempo performance which suffers more than anything else here from his vocalisations and some tape problems. His means of keeping things moving are various, and include some stride episodes. The same 1963 tape produced a “But Beautiful” which jollies along before a chordal theme statement in his old style, with a few trademarks endearingly echoing his Blue Note recordings of fifty years ago (fifteen years before this performance was recorded) quite closely.

The final title is “Mary’s Improvisation” from 1961. Powell plays a lot of piano, with some whole note runs in the opening, alternating with chording until he’s playing so downright orchestral a “Tenderly” that the tape recorder is seriously challenged. The distortion is less with the single notes he uses for an ending. “Ten-der…”, and then, after a pause, an incredibly ringing tone “…lee!”