chick Corea's latest album is modestly titled "Remembering Bud Powell," as if he had recorded just another tribute to the man who helped develop bebop's jagged rhythms and advanced harmonies on the ivories. From Bill Evans to Cecil Taylor, virtually no post-World War II jazz pianist escaped Powell's influence, but his status as one of the music's handful of revolutionary innovators has long overshadowed his work as a composer. Corea, a highly influential pianist-composer in his own right, pays Powell the ultimate compliment of delving deeply into his music. In crafting arrangements for some of the pianist's lesser-known works, Corea reveals a profound musical legacy.
Corea's serious-minded approach to "Remembering Bud Powell" is apparent through his choice of collaborators. Corea builds upon the precise, emotionally expansive percussion textures laid down by 71-year-old Roy Haynes, one of the fathers of modern drumming. Haynes has worked with just about every major figure in the music over the last 50 years, including Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane and Powell himself on his classic sessions from the late '40s and early '50s. The ubiquitous Christian McBride handles bass duty ably, while Corea has also recruited Joshua Redman (tenor sax), Kenny Garrett (alto sax) and Wallace Roney (trumpet), who all respond with heart and intelligence to Powell's challenging music.
Of the album's 10 tracks, Corea pays his own tribute, "Bud Powell," and covers three of Powell's better-known tunes -- "Bouncin' With Bud," "Celia" and "Tempus Fugit." But it's the pianist's more obscure pieces, such as the oddly haunting trio version of "Dusk in Sandi," that make "Remembering Bud Powell" so compelling. Even the juxtaposition of tunes lends insight into Powell's vast emotional range. Corea's interpretation of the beautiful ballad "I'll Keep Loving You," with its unusual piano-bass-sax instrumentation, runs up against the stark urban soundscape of "Glass Enclosure," which features almost dissonant lines by Redman and Roney.
Powell, who died at 41 in 1966, was, even more than Charlie Parker, bebop's fallen hero. Brutally beaten by police at the age of 21, Powell spent the rest of his life fighting mental illness and playing terrifyingly powerful music between breakdowns. "With Powell, we are always listening beneath the surface for premonitions, disclosures, revelations, the deepest and most profane secrets," wrote Gary Giddins in a fascinating 1994 Village Voice jazz supplement, "The Earl of Harlem: Bud Powell at 70." Because Corea has taken the time to listen beneath the surface, "Remembering" unearths Powell's many hidden treasures.
Feb. 20, 1997