The Complete Bud Powell on Verve

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COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Verve
WORKS: jazz
PERFORMER: Bud Powell
CATALOGUE NO: 521 669-2

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As a document on the life and music of one of the towering figures in modern jazz, this five-CD set, with 150-page booklet, is superb. Pianist Bud Powell, who would have been 70 this year, was a modern jazz archetype: intense, brilliant, but broken down by alcoholism and mental illness until his death in 1966.

His distinctive, horn-like playing, steely yet passionate, has influenced generations of instrumentalists since he first hit the 52nd Street scene in the mid-Forties, at the same time as Parker, Gillespie and Monk. Some of his strongest performances from 1949 to 1956 are here, all in favourite trio settings.

False starts, alternative takes and even studio talk are all included in over five hours’ playing time. Accompanying biographical detail and recollections from friends and peers put the music in context. There are omissions, notably the Powell classics ‘Un Poco Loco’ and ‘Glass Enclosure’, and these can be found on a newly released four-CD Blue Note boxed set (CDP 8300832).

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But if the Verve collection seems an indulgent purchase for anyone who already has the major works, it is still – with all its minutiae – an absorbing Christmas gift for any fan of modern jazz. Garry Booth