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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Four Classic Albums Plus

Avid AMSC 1063



1. Borderline
2. Makin' Whoopie
3. What's New
4. Quin And Sonic
5. If Dreams Come True
6. Cross Your Heart
7. Avalon
Mel Powell - Piano
Paul Quinichette - Tenor sax
Bobby Donaldson - Drums
8. Thigamagig
9. You're My Thrill
10. Button Up Your Overcoat
11. Don-Que-Dee
12. Bouquet
13. Ain't She Sweet
14. Take Me In Your Arms
15. California, Here I Come
Mel Powell - Piano
Ruby Braff - Trumpet
Bobby Donaldson - Drums
Mel Powell Out On A Limb
16. Gone With The Wind
17. Bunny Hug
18. Pennies From Heaven
19. Stomping At The Savoy
20. When Your Lover Has Gone
Mel Powell - Piano
Al Mattaliano - Trumpet
Michael "Peanuts" Hucko - Clarinet
Nick Calazza - Tenor sax
Tommy Kay - Guitar
Arnold Fishkin - Bass
Bobby Donaldson- Drums
Mel Powell Out On A Limb
1. Cooch
2. Beale St. Blues
3. Three Little Words
4. You're Lucky To Me
5. Liza
6. The Best Thing For You Would Be Me
7. Rosetta
Track 1: Personnel as above
Tracks 2-7:
Mel Powell - Piano
Ruby Braff - Trumpet
Oscar Pettiford - Bass
Skeeter Best - Guitar
Bobby Donaldson - Drums
The Mel Powell Bandstand
8. Ezz-May
9. My Last Millionaire
10. Everything I've Got
11. Firebug
12. Easy Swing
13. Soon
14. When Did You Leave Heaven
Mel Powell - Piano
John Glasel - Trumpet
Chuck Russo - Clarinet, alto sax, baritone sax
Joe Kay - Bass
Jimmy Buffington - French horn
Boomie Richman - Tenor sax
Mundell Lowe - Guitar
Eddie Phyfe - Drums
Joan Wile - Vocals
Mel Powell Septet
15. `S Wonderful
16. It's Been So Long
17. I Must Have That Man
18. You're Lucky To Me
Mel Powell - Piano
Edmond Hall - Clarinet
Buck Clayton - Trumpet
Henderson Chambers - Trombone
Steve Jordan - Guitar
Walter Page - Bass
Jimmy Crawford - Drums
Classics in Jazz
19. Anything Goes
20. Hallelujah
21. There's A Small Hotel
22. Way Down Yonder In New Orleans
Mel Powell - Piano
Bumps Myers - Sax
Jake Porter - Trumpet
Lee Young - Drums
Red Callender - Bass


Mel Powell is one of those musicians who is in danger of being overlooked, despite his huge talent and notable contributions to jazz. Born Melvin Epstein in 1923, he made his mark as pianist, composer and arranger with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in the early 1940s. For Goodman he wrote such masterly pieces as The Earl (dedicated to Earl Hines, one of Mel's favourite fellow-pianists), Mission to Moscow and Clarinade, as well as arranging The Count, Jersey Bounce and (Peggy Lee's first big hit) Why Don't You Do Right. 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 1954: 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 the 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.

Borderline, the 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 of Lester Young, although on parts of this album he sounds closer to Stan Getz. The trio on both sets was completed by drummer 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. And Cross My Heart pays tribute to Fats Waller with a thrusting stride piano.

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. Braff plays muted in Don-Que-Dee, a samba composed by Bobby Donaldson and featuring his drumming.

These two sessions would be worth the price of the album alone, but it also includes the contents of several other discs. The oldest is Classics in Jazz, a 1947 EP with striding piano from Mel and some forceful tenor sax from Bumps Myers.

Mel Powell Septet from December 1953 has very much the feel of those classic Vic Dickenson sessions organised by John Hammond, with a chugging rhythm section. Buck Clayton and Walter Page supply a touch of Count Basie, while Ed Hall plays some fine clarinet solos. The resonant recording and Mel Powell's airy piano give the session a refreshing buoyancy.

The Mel Powell Bandstand from December 1954 seems more serious, with the emphasis on the arrangements rather than the soloists - and the presence of a French horn player. Nevertheless there are good solos from trumpeter John Glasel, guitarist Mundell Lowe -- and, of course, Mel Powell. Two tracks have vocals by Joan Wile, marking her recording debut.

The latest LP is Mel Powell Out On A Limb, recorded in October 1955. 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 surpassing it.

Tony Augarde

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