Daily Archives: January 25, 2022

BEALE STREET STILL CAN TALK: MEL POWELL, RUBY BRAFF, BOBBY DONALDSON (1955)

Mel Powell in uniform, autographed later in life.

Another trip down that memorable street: sedate and passionate all at once. Mel Powell, piano; Ruby Braff, cornet; Bobby Donaldson, drums. October 19, 1955, for Vanguard Records, supervised by John Hammond. In the tradition, beyond the tradition, looking at the tradition from a distance with affection, extending the tradition. It’s the first performance from a quintet session — with Skeeter Best and Oscar Pettiford on guitar and bass — and I wonder if they were late or if this was a warm-up for the engineers. Either way, it is a compact deft masterwork.

Although many bands did this as a near-stomp (I hear the Condon JAM SESSION COAST-TO-COAST version in my mind’s ear) this version is almost ruminative, a rhythm ballad with a subversive sly bounce from Donaldson paddling along in the distance. Both Mel and Ruby seem sweetly experimental, as if wondering how much sonic stretching the venerable contours will take: Ruby growling as if he were the Ellington brass section, Mel bridging two worlds: Wilson-stride with extended harmonies and unexpected phrase-shapes the rule. It’s a visit to a new world in less than four minutes, and it lingers in the brain.

This quiet celebration is for my man AJS, who made his way across the border to freedom just today.

May your happiness increase!