If there was one artistic tragedy in Mel Powell's career, it was that he never stayed with one band or label long enough to record a large body of work -- it was just plain difficult to release a Mel Powell album, because he seldom recorded an album's worth of material in any one place, and soon after the Second World War, jazz became an album marketplace. This compilation seeks to overcome that gap by assembling some of the choicest moments in Powell's career from across a five-year period, from 1943 through 1948. The first three cuts, "Jubilee," "When a Woman Loves a Man," and "Hallelujah," show off the 20-year-old Powell playing solo, while "Stealin' Apples" captures a featured moment on radio for the pianist with the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, sharing the spotlight with Peanuts Hucko's clarinet. Four of his Parisian recordings from 1945 showcase the duality in the man's persona and taste, encompassing tributes to both Fats Waller and Claude Debussy. His work with Benny Goodman is represented by a romping "I Got Rhythm" from 1945, and the remainder of the disc is given over to Powell's own group work, done for Commodore and Capitol Records between 1946 and 1948. "Lover Man" shows off what a loss it was that Powell never had an extended career leading a full band -- the group's sound is one of the most sultry, subtle, and musically ambitious of its period, somehow as alluring in its way as the Tommy Dorsey band and also as challenging as Duke Ellington's at its most sophisticated. Powell's quintet makes up most of this section of the CD, however, and their sides are a wonder, filled with bold and expressive technique derived from Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum, among others, but recast by Powell in a form totally his own. The mastering job on the music has generally been handled extremely well, with a minimum of surface noise (only in the quietest passages). There's also a CD-ROM function that may not be accessible on some computers.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder