(Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Wendell Marshall, bass; Osie Johnson, drums)
An album like At Ease With Coleman Hawkins is just asking for the Rudy Van Gelder remaster treatment. Having heard a number of RVG remasters and compared them to their original CD issues, I’ve found nearly always (notice I said nearly, RVG remaster detractors) that the reissue adds a warmth as well as a sharpness to the music that was previously flattened by earlier digital mastering. When dealing with a tone as airy and as textured as that of Coleman Hawkins, every restored nuance enhances the listening experience. That being said, a dubbed cassette tape of At Ease will probably still make you melt.
The album’s first track, For You, For Me, For Evermore, features Hawkins’ trademark tone squeezing every ounce of melodic lushness from the Gershwin composition. Every chord progression sounds sung as opposed to played, with Hawkins taking the lyrical style of playing to its logical conclusion: instrument as a living, breathing voice. Tommy Flanagan’s piano solo is wonderfully delicate, his high notes ringing out like bells or slippery wine glasses.
While We’re Young has a Latin-esque intro from Hawkins, who then moves into his usual beautiful elaboration on the song’s theme in his solo. Like Charlie Parker, Hawkins is a master of be-bop experimentation within a melodic framework. Listeners can choose to focus on Hawkins’ gorgeous tone or on his endless inventiveness, or just sit back and let the notes wash over you. Flanagan’s playing is just as gorgeous as it was on the first track.
Then I’ll Be Tired of You features Hawkins using a fluttery, airy tone that’s like his usual tone on cold medicine. That’s not a bad thing, I assure you. When Hawkins plays the end of the theme, you can hear an imaginary singer letting out a long breath to sink into the last few words.
Mighty Like a Rose is truly the album’s highlight. Foregoing a solo, Hawkins just plays the melody straight through, allowing the craft of Ethelbert Nevin’s chord progression to shine through. Though I’d never heard the song done by anyone before (apparently it was a favorite of Sinatra’s), I found the old melody instantly recognizable, its rousing chorus just as uplifting as it would be with words (if not more).
As a jazz fan, I’m a big fan of two extremes: wild, free jazz, and gorgeous, controlled melody and mood-based jazz. Obviously At Ease falls into the latter category, though I suspect I’m reducing the album’s beauty to too simplistic of a description. I sincerely hope the RVG remaster of At Ease not only makes fans of the album’s previous issues rediscover it, but also that those fans share this album with their friends and family. I can’t imagine it would be hard for an album this gorgeous to not find new admirers.
Tracklist: For You, For Me, For Evermore, While We’re Young, Then I’ll Be Tired of You, Mighty Like A Rose, At Dawning, Trouble Is a Man, Poor Butterfly, I’ll Get By (As Long As I Have You).
– Daniel Krow