Sunday, August 14, 2011

Duke Ellington - Meets Coleman Hawkins / And John Coltrane Impulse, 1962-63, Verve Re-issue, 2011)

The great pianist and composer Duke Ellington and some of his regular sidemen made a few albums for the Impulse! label in the 1960's. There is an excellent two-LP set floating around for the crate diggers to discover covering this period, but for the rest of us there's this new re-issue of two well known Ellington encounters with master saxophonists, Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane. Coleman Hawkins is credited with bringing the saxophone into widespread use in jazz during the 1920's, but never rested on his laurels, bringing his massive sound to bear with modernists and traditionalists alike (much like the Duke himself.) This album has the feel of a polite jam session, beginning with a goofy but fun "Limbo Jazz" which gives everybody a chance to get warmed up with some funky danceable music that is echoed in "Ray Charles' Place." A couple of Johnny Hodges co-compositions, "Wanderlust" and "The Jeep is Jumpin'" put one of jazz's creates tenor saxophone and alto saxophone players together. Ellington's "Self Portrait (Of the Bean)" gives the great man a chance to shine and the album concludes with a beautiful version of the Ellington co-composition "Solitude." Saxophonist John Coltrane and his producer Bob Thiele were still stinging from a nasty beating in the jazz press labeling Coltrane as the "angry tenor" and to counteract this, they recorded a series of more accessible LP's, Ballads, John Coltrane and (ballad singer) Johnny Hartman and this meeting with Duke Ellington. It's a small band recording with Duke on piano (I wonder if McCoy Tyner was there) Coltrane on Tenor and Soprano saxophones, and Duke's and Coltrane's bassists and drummers trading tunes. This is a very enjoyable meeting of the minds, Ellington was apparently eager to break Coltrane's perfectionist tedencies and insisted on the first or second takes being used, rather then recording and re-recording the same song over and over. This makes for a wonderfully spontaneous record, with Duke feeding Coltrane spare and evocative chords on "In a Sentimental Mood" and setting a brisk pace for Billy Strayhorn's "Take the Coltrane." Coltrane takes to the soprano with Duke, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones in tow for "Big Nick," his tribute to R&B/Jazz saxophonist Big Nick Nicholas. They wrap up the session with an Ellington co-composed riff called "The Feeling of Jazz," that allows everyone to stretch out in a relaxed atmosphere. Meets Coleman Hawkins / And John Coltrane -

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