Duke Ellington: Meets Coleman Hawkins/And John Coltrane

If you already have the material, this package might not appeal. But even a passing interest in any of these principal figures, or in the broad range of American music, make this an essential selection.

Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins/Duke Ellington and John Coltrane

Artists: Duke Ellington
Label: Universal/Impulse
US Release Date: 2011-07-26
UK Release Date: 2011-10-10

In a little over forty days, from the middle of August to the end of September of 1962, Duke Ellington recorded three small group records that stand as his most forceful statements in the medium: Money Jungle, a trio session with Charles Mingus and Max Roach and the most bare-and-battered-bones music of Ellington’s career; Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins, a late-career summit of two greats who each played a key role in developing the grammar of jazz; and Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, which catches the soloist in the midst of one of his most productive periods, when he was consistently swirling jazz’s past and future into what often feels like a single, tortuous line. This new release from Impulse/Universal binds the Hawkins and Coltrane records onto one disc and, although you miss the rough sparseness of Money Jungle, the conversation these two sessions create when played back to back is illuminating.

Working with Ellington provides Hawkins, on a song-by-song basis, a chance to fuse the two great segments of his career -- his work as the innovator of the swing solo and as the elder statesman of bop. Using a collection of some of Ellington’s most trusted sidemen, including Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, and Ray Nance, Hawkins shines on some of Duke’s signature compositions. "Mood Indigo", for instance, is recast as a more modestly contemplative piece without losing any of its majesty. In fact, this later performance bears the bleary, weary introspection of a thousand nights on the road more acutely than any of the earlier big band versions. It’s also an ideal example of how delicately Hawkins can handle a ballad. "Limbo Jazz" is a loose-limbed riff that plays like a more approachable, less brittle version of the small group work of Money Jungle, and it works as an exuberant celebration that blends the borders between jazz and early Atlantic R&B -- especially if you play it loud enough to hear the non sequitur voices vamping in the background.

John Coltrane and Duke Ellington finds Coltrane’s playing lodged in a middle position, between the roiling yet accessible hard bop of records like Blue Train (1957) and Giant Steps (1960) and the confrontational, tonal acrobatics of A Love Supreme (1965) and Ascension (1966).

On this record, you get the sense that he is running up against the edges of his own ideas, getting ready to strike through the mask, dropping sheets of sound that are often tangled and opaque but always reaching, searching -- and always worth following. When heard against the warmth and wisdom of Hawkins’s playing, however, Coltrane can sound a bit prickly, and predictably enough Coltrane’s sessions with Ellington are more overtly adventurous. For one thing, he brings more of his own people -- Elvin Bishop occasionally sits in on drums and Jimmy Garrison takes a turn on bass -- and for another, he seems to take greater liberties with the Ellington songbook. Coltrane’s version of "In a Sentimental Mood", for instance, is deliberately drained of sentimentality, finding new emotional registers for a familiar standard; in its cooler, more languid corners, you can hear Lester Young looking over his shoulder. "Take the Coltrane", on the other hand, zeros in on a motif from the Ellington orchestra most prominent song and explodes it into a blues-based flurry of runs and ripples. Where the appropriately-titled Meets Coleman Hawkins represents an encounter between two coeval giants, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane highlights the rough points of contact between two highly individuated sensibilities. Neither is dissolved into the other but the distinctions remain, and the tensions they produce are the magic of the album.

If you already have the material, this package might not appeal. But even a passing interest in any of these principal figures, or in the broad range of American music, make this an essential selection. As a call-and-response combo, this package offers an ideal place to retrain your sense of Ellington’s great gifts: his nuanced visions of color and tone, his preternatural understanding of sonic texture, and -- especially in this context -- his formidable abilities as a piano player. Although each record highlights the innovations and distinct character of its marquee soloists, we’re forced to admit that, in the end, this is Ellington’s world and, as listeners and players alike, we’ve been living in it all along.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.