Sunday, June 17, 2018

Listening to Prestige 339: Coleman Hawkins

This is a Moodsville session, and it can legitimately be described as mood music: Coleman Hawkins and a rhythm section, a selection of well-chosen ballads, all of them familiar, none of them over-familiar. Two of them ("While We're Young" and "Trouble is a Man") were composed by Alec Wilder, who, if he didn't coin the phrase "Great American Songbook," can certainly be accorded credit for popularizing the concept with his 1972 book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950.

The cover art for the Moodsville series makes it clear what they're selling: the mood. But the musicians don't go into the studio to make mood music, and with Coleman Hawkins, you know you're getting a lot more.

And that's not to put down mood music. Music as background is sometimes unfairly derided. It's part of our lives when we don't necessarily want it to be, in elevators or supermarkets or when we're on hold. But it's the background to our lives when we choose it, to read, to work out or make love, to paint or sculpt or clean out the garage. But that background has to be foregroundable. It has to be music that you can stop sculpting for a few minutes, wipe your brow, take a breath, and shift your attention to what you're listening to. It needs to be something good, something that's every bit as challenging and absorbing as it is relaxing and soothing.

Hawkins fits all of those requirements. So does Tommy Flanagan, who is a very good match for Hawkins.

The album is called At Ease With Coleman Hawkins. Esmond Edwards produced.

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