The earliest recordings of the pioneering Thelonious Monk were documented by Blue Note and the material has been pretty much available in some form or another since its original release. The Genius of Modern Music - Volume One (Blue Note 32138) goes back to sessions in the fall of 1947 featuring three different line-ups. Throughout, Art Blakey stokes the coals and such forgotten soloists as trumpeters Idress Sulieman and George Taitt and saxophonists Billy Smith and Sahib Shihab give creative life to early Monk masterpieces. "Well You Needn’t," "’Round Midnight," and "Ruby My Dear" are just three of the standards to be heard in their initial form.
Cuts from 1951 and 1952 are collected on The Genius of Modern Music - Volume Two (Blue Note 32139) and this disc is the most impressive of the pair. Although the sound quality is strong on both counts, these tracks have a bit more presence to them, owing undoubtedly to the later recording dates. The groups highlighted are also a bit more cohesive, comprising some stronger soloists. The first quintet has Blakey again at the drums, with Sahib Shihab on alto sax and Milt Jackson on vibes. The second session finds Max Roach spelling Blakey, as the front line expands to include Kenny Dorham, Lou Donaldson, and Lucky Thompson. Choice material abounds, namely "Four in One,’ "Criss Cross," "Ask Me Now," and "Let’s Cool One." It should be noted that both discs include all the material presented on previous compact disc editions, but sport the artwork from the original 10" LP releases.
Because Thelonious Monk appears as a sideman on about half of Wizard of the Vibes (Blue Note 32140), I’ve decided to include it in our discussion, even though the disc is under the leadership of Milt Jackson. It’s the cuts from 1948 that include Monk in the mix with John Simmons on bass and Shadow Wilson at the drums. Vocalist Kenny "Pancho" Hagood also sits in on three numbers to no great effect. Strongest, however, are the four Monk tunes included- "Evidence," "Misterioso," "Epistrophy," and "I Mean You." Nine tracks from 1952 are especially intriguing as they feature the group that was soon to become the Modern Jazz Quartet, with the addition of Lou Donaldson on a few selections. Again, the original cover and title of the 10" LP take the place of the graphics formerly presented as catalog number BLP 1509.
Less idiosyncratic than Monk, but more technically gifted, Bud Powell took the innovations of Art Tatum and applied them to the new language of bebop jazz. The Amazing Bud Powell - Volume One (Blue Note 32136) documents his earliest sides from August of 1949. Also on hand are trumpet whiz Fats Navarro and tenor legend Sonny Rollins, with Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes rounding things out. The other half of this disc puts Powell in a trio setting with Curley Russell and Max Roach and the sparks fly on "Un Poco Loco," "Parisian Thoroughfare," and "A Night in Tunisia." Sound quality is sharp and precise, a surprise considering the age of the material.
It’s just Powell’s trio of George Duvivier and Art Taylor that are heard on The Amazing Bud Powell - Volume Two (Blue Note 32137), recordings that come from August of 1953. The sound is again strong and Powell seems to be in good shape as he interprets a set of standards and his own brilliant "Glass Enclosure." Of particular note here is the addition of four alternates and one extra tune that had been previously unissued. Also, be informed that the covers we’re usually used to seeing (a black and white head shot of Powell from the side) are used, the ones from the 10" covers displayed under the tray for some odd reason.