Coleman Hawkins: At Ease with Coleman Hawkins

Vladimir Wormwood

Taking it easy, to a fault.

Coleman Hawkins

At Ease with Coleman Hawkins

Label: Moodsville
US Release Date: 2006-11-12
UK Release Date: 2006-11-06

The effortless approach and delivery of every track on the 1960 album At Ease With Coleman Hawkins proves to be both its most admirable asset and its most aggravating shortcoming. This is for the relaxing, drink sipping, quiet conversation crowd. If you aren't at ease, it will put you at ease. If it is too cold or inclement outside, it is the perfect soundtrack to making some coffee, or a hot cup of tea, and wearing sweaters, and reading, and seeing fit to never venture out of doors. It is for romantic dinners. It is a smoky, bittersweet memory. It is easy listening to the max.

The original liner notes by Ron Eyre make the most convincing case for this album. Eyre speaks of this as sophisticated "mood music," a popular genre of the day and probably not entirely erased from today's spectrum (Coldplay). The album is created around an ambiance to transmit just that. In this case there is a cohesive set of ballads that this quartet ably runs through. While the examples I gave may be silly clichés, I would be more than happy to sit inside with a cup of tea and this album playing.

While bassist Wendall Marshall and drummer Osie Johnson are excellent, this material gives them little room to shine, and hence is largely the Coleman Hawkins/Tommy Flanagan show. Each track posits its melody only to make way for the two to trade languid, sweet solos. Never is there a note misplaced, never do they stutter. Unfortunately they are also rather unexciting. There is never any sense that they are exploring or pushing or challenging themselves. There are only delicate runs of requisite notes, floating above torpid rhythms.

There are no actual problems with these recordings, and in fact everything sounds impeccable. It is over the course of the album that the initial good ideas start to wear thin. It's all overwhelmingly pleasant, but never in an energetic fashion. It's pleasant like a nap. I hate to say it, but listening to the whole album makes you think it must be background music. There's just not enough to reward an intent listen. As background it would always be right on. On a more conscious spin one has to discover the standout choice moments.

And there really are quite a few such moments. Hawkins' technique is unquestionable. In his rendition of "For You, For Me, For Evermore", the first track, he displays a remarkable tonal variety. He can sound strident and plaintive all at once. His "voice" can be expansive or, as he winds down his first solo, intimately subtle. And he does not merely do one or the other but moves gracefully between poles. On "Then I'll be Tired of You" his sound is breathy and low, almost sultry.

But that track's title and its fade-out on a Hawk solo seem to acknowledge just how exciting this all sounds. There are times when it almost seems that Hawkins' effortlessness holds the record back. The solos are flawless; if there were only some moments of urgency, they would be splendid. Pianist Flanagan is not really much help here. His accompaniment is discreet. He slowly outlines melodies. His solos are elegant but reserved; pretty much doing more of the same, only more extensively. "Mighty like a Rose" has some interesting interplay between the two after Flanagan's solo. Flanagan continues to extend his ideas out under Hawk's lazy melody, then provides looser "fills" as they close the number out. But unless you're listening for it, it could all float by.

The fact that there are so few actual complaints about At Ease with Coleman Hawkins is the only complaint I have. If there were trouble, at least that would be substantive. So what? These musicians set out to make accomplished mood music and they succeeded. Good for them, good for the "mood music" crowd. End of discussion. So why pick this example of Hawkins' work to reissue? It seems like an odd aspect of the man's career to draw new attention to. Is it to show that Hawkins was a pioneer tenor player not above resting on musical laurels as he grew old? That Hawkins knew a good marketing scheme when he saw one? At worst this reissue seems crass. At best it seems mostly unnecessary.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.