on March 29, 2015
This one succeeds on all levels. It's mostly ballads and mid-tempo swingers, and there's no attempt at a cutting contest on any of the tracks.
Hawkins takes the melody for "La Rosita" (1923), "Prisoner of Love" (1931), "Tangerine" (1941), and "Shine on Harvest Moon" (1908), while Webster plays the melodies for "It Never Entered My Mind" (1940) and "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" (1943), and they play the melody in harmony on the slow 6/8 blues "Blues for Yolande," which Hawkins wrote. Also recorded at the same session (but missing from this reissue) was Hawkins' very catchy tune "Maria," where they again harmonize on the melody--it's a hypnotic mid-tempo swinger that joins three 12-bar blues sections with an 8-bar bridge. And there is a short (2:40) take of "Cocktails for Two" also left off of this reissue that is mostly a feature for Ben Webster (possibly recorded with the jukebox market in mind?), but Hawkins does come in with some counter-melodies at the very end.
The standards here are well chosen, and of particular interest to me is the choice of "Prisoner of Love," in the same key and at a slightly slower tempo than Lester Young's version for Verve record the previous year with Teddy Wilson on piano. Also, the arrangement of "La Rosita," with it's slow Latin beat (played on what sounds to me like a single hand drum) and moody and beautiful piano work by Oscar Peterson is a stunner. When Ben Webster comes in for the chorus, playing a harmony line on top of Coleman Hawkins, it sounds like two opera singers in a duet--they breathe and play together perfectly. The tune shifts into swing (I think at this point there's a tape splice, but who cares if it didn't all happen in one take!) and Ben lays down a short, classic bluesy solo of the type that only he and Johnny Hodges are capable of. The tune glides back into the Latin groove with the harmony line of the chorus played by both tenors, and wraps up, having transported the listener with its spell.
Oscar Peterson is (I believe) the only soloist apart from the tenors, and he's restrained and tasteful throughout the session. (For an example of the opposite, see "Anita Sings the Most," where Peterson is constantly playing over Anita O'Day's vocals.) Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Alvin Stoller are rock solid as a rhythm section, but are not spotlighted in any way, save Stoller's percussion on "La Rosita".
I noticed that the bonus track 8 "Blues for Yolande" is a mono version of the same performance that opens the album, with the producer's comments at the beginning, and the tape ever-so-slightly sped up (not enough to really notice, in terms of pitch, but if you play the two tracks at the same time in an audio editing program, they get noticeably out of synch after 10-15 seconds). I agree with the reviewer who lamented the inclusion of the "breakdown" takes. If this were, say, a Charlie Parker session, and the breakdowns contained nuggets of a solo where never before heard ideas were being tried out, then yes, let's have the breakdowns and listen to some new licks. But in this case, you get three 1-minute starts of a slow blues where there isn't any serious soloing going on, or anything really that you don't hear on the master take by listening to the introduction. Much better would have been the inclusion of "Cocktails for Two" and "Marie" from the same session (and for this reason, you might want to look for the CD "Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster - The Complete Session," which does have this material).
All that aside, the tracks comprising the original album are wonderful, capturing two tenor titans at their mid-career peaks, in good sound, with a sympathetic rhythm section. Record during the same two days of sessions were Ben Webster's "Soulville" and "Coleman Hawkins' "The Genius of Coleman Hawkins". All three are worth seeking out.