He'd be the fourth face on a bebop Rushmore right up there with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk, sculpted out of jazz's veiny, jagged bedrock. But pianist and composer Bud Powell has never had as much recognition as those others. Why? The first two boxed sets of Powell's major recordings illuminate his old problems while providing a fresh foundation for a new appreciation of his genius.
Born in 1924 and dead through a complicity of demons in 1966, Bud Powell was active as a small-band leader and sideman for about 20 years, on and off. The ''on'' periods are best represented by Bud Powell: the Complete Blue Note and Roost Recordings (Blue Note), which includes the late-1940s sessions that established Powell as a cathartic improviser with unheard-of speed and virtuosity. This four-CD set also has the premier recordings of some of Powell's arabesque compositional masterpieces, such as ''Wail,'' ''Dance of the Infidels,'' and ''Glass Enclosure.''
The Complete Bud Powell on Verve (Verve) draws from the artist's most volatile, mid-career period. Yet it remains the superior set as a set. Produced with obsessive exactitude and scholarly seriousness, this collection documents virtually every sound the mikes picked up in all of Powell's sessions for the Verve, Clef, Mercury, and Norgran labels, from previously released tracks and alternative takes to snippets of aborted experiments. The total effect rips up Powell's mysterioso veneer to cast light on the key to his deeply internal art: the fearless workings of jazz's most profoundly tortured mind. The Complete Blue Note and Roost Recordings: A- The Complete Bud Powell on Verve: A