COLEMAN HAWKINS — At Ease With Coleman Hawkins (review)

COLEMAN HAWKINS — At Ease With Coleman Hawkins album cover Album · 1960 · Swing Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
js
Mood music was a phenomena that arose in the 50s with the arrival of the long playing album and was designed to provide a ‘relaxing atmosphere’ for people during times of leisure. Often these albums consisted of rather faceless orchestras playing classic ballads in a rather bland and unobtrusive manner, but a not uncommon alternative to the generic orchestra would involve having a well known jazz musician play the ballads instead. Big stars from Charlie Parker to John Coltrane have recorded such albums and these sides can range from cheezy and forget-able to decent sets of jazz, albeit a bit laid back. Fortunately, Coleman Hawkins’, “At Ease with Coleman Hawkins”, falls into that latter group.

If you had to pick the nicest tone in saxophone history, Hawkins would rate at the top along side fellow reed men like Johnny Hodges and Lester Young. For those unfamiliar with his history, Hawkins, pretty much by himself, invited modern saxophone playing in the late 20s and made the saxophone a competitive solo instrument with his virtuoso solos and smooth tone that is still hard to match today. Coleman brings all that virtuosity to “At Ease”, but keeps things in a relaxed manner as required by the mood music setting.

In comparison to other jazz albums that double as easy listening, “At Ease” rates very well. One big plus on here is that there are no background strings weighting down the sound, often a big problem with other jazz mood albums. Instead, the only instruments you get on “at Ease” are a simple four piece combo with the great Tommy Flanagan on piano. A second big plus is the choice of tunes. Easy listening albums are notorious for featuring songs that have been played to death, not so on this one, apparently Hawkins picked the tunes himself, and his choices are thoughtful and unique. Fans of Coleman Hawkins don’t need to be afraid of this one, Hawkins keeps it mellow, but he doesn’t necessarily check his genius at the door, there is a lot of great playing on here, inventive and unique as always.
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