Label: Avid Jazz - AMSC1063 • Format: 2x, CD Compilation, Remastered • Country: UK • Genre: Jazz • Style: Swing
Mel Powell is one of those musicians who is in danger Punished By Silence - Solar Dawn - Frost-Work being overlooked, despite his huge talent and notable contributions to jazz.
Born Melvin Epstein inhe made his mark as pianist, composer and arranger with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in the early s. Subsequently he recorded and toured with Glenn Miller's band, appeared in Jazz at the Philharmonic, and recorded some marvellous albums, many of which are included on this bargain-price double album. However, he was ultimately more interested in "serious" music than jazz, and he studied with Paul Hindemith at Yale. For me, his most prodigious albums are the two trio sets he recorded a week apart in August Borderline and Thigamagig.
These were recorded under the aegis of John Hammond, the producer who created memorable "mainstream" sessions by the likes of Vic Dickenson and Buck Clayton. As with those sessions, the Mel Powell trio recordings have a bright, resonant sound which brings Bootie Call (Dreem Teem Vocal) - All Saints - The Remix Album music closer to the listener.
Mel's piano style paid particular attention to the upper notes of the piano, generating an airy feel to everything he played. And the trios' absence of bass or guitar left Mel free to use his left hand adventurously. Borderlinethe first of the two sessions, features tenorist Paul Quinichette, another musician in danger of being underestimated, perhaps because of his sound's resemblance to that Borderline - Mel Powell - Four Classic Albums Plus Lester Young, although on parts of this album he sounds closer to Stan Getz.
The trio on both sets was completed by Borderline - Mel Powell - Four Classic Albums Plus Bobby Donaldson. Bobby was often used by Mel Powell and one can understand why, as the drummer provides exactly the right amount of rhythm without being intrusive. As with most old-school drummers, his bass drum keeps the beat dependably.
And he adds some well-crafted drum solos. Mel Powell's advanced musical abilities are clear throughout both sessions. For example, sample the weird harmonies with which he accompanies Paul Quinichette in What's New. However advanced Mel Powell's harmonies were, he still swung dynamically, as in the title-tracks of Borderline and Thigamagig.
The latter album substituted Ruby Braff for Paul Quinichette. Braff is listed as playing the trumpet but I'm fairly sure it's a cornet. His lyrical style combines perfectly with Powell's sympathetic accompaniment. You're My Thrill is a typical example of these musicians' empathy.
It includes a sublime moment after Mel's piano introduction, where Ruby's mellow cornet enters angelically. These two sessions would be worth the price of the album alone, but it also includes the contents of several other discs. Mel Powell Septet from December has very much the feel of those classic Vic Dickenson sessions organised by John Hammond, with a chugging rhythm section.
The resonant recording and Mel Powell's airy piano give the session a refreshing buoyancy. The Mel Powell Bandstand from December seems more serious, with the emphasis on the arrangements rather than the soloists - and the presence of a French horn player. Two tracks have vocals by Joan Wile, marking her recording debut. The LP used different line-ups for each side of the disc.
One side had a septet with, again, emphasis on the educated arrangements. Good though this is, I prefer the second side, which has the same personnel as Thigamagig with the addition of guitar and bass. Here the appeal is mostly down to Ruby Braff's eloquence aligned with Mel Powell's sensitive playing. This album is likely to be my reissue of the year, as I can't see anything else The Schimanski Files - SteamTeam - Global Heating it.
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