One of the best recordings of late Hawkins joining a band comprising of Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Ray Nance, Lawrence Brown, Aaron Bell and Sam Woodyard with the piano player in a swinging mood. Rarely heard tunes, or tunes written for the occasion, presents the small band in all it's glory - Hawk playing as if he always has been playing that kind of music, fx. a gorgeous rendition of Mood Indigo and the special Self portrait of the Bean. I can not recommend it enough to all lovers of small band swing!!
The original Impulse gatefold has long been one of the most treasured of my records, if alone for the grand names and the business-as-usual simple beauty of the black-orange Impulse records. I would have appreciated a more condign digipak, that means not this fingerprints attracting glossy but a matte one. You will soon find out why, this will most likely be one of the CDs that may leave the tray of your player unopened for days. Why? It's music, well, you can't really say it has been overlooked, a more fitting term would be "taken for granted". Maybe the lineup was just too inconspicious, the titles modestly unspectacular to gain attention at a time when jazz was going rather clamorous. The writer of these lines himself has for years listened more intensely to the Dukè's encounters with Roach/Mingus and Coltrane. Though the results of these collaborations are often sublime (the latter) or rewarding (the former), the albums have a certain unevenness, which only enhances their appeal among more audacious listeners, no doubt.
This record though is the most consistent yet creative of all musical encounters Ellington had with other greats in 1961/2, including Basie and Armstrong.
I guess the real benefactor of the musical success is the small group formula, which Ellington's producers had regrettably neglected since the early forties. In a way, the nine titles on this disc renew the great recordings under the nominal leadership of Duke's sidemen of the late thirties/early forties, which produced not a few hits and standards (Jeep's Blues, Caravan, Hodge Podge, ...). On first listening to this album years ago, I was somewhat disappointed, as I had envisioned the Mighty Hawk in the role of the virtuoso playing mostly challenging and new Ellington material, of the likes of say Paul Gonsalves's towering "Mount Harissa" concerto. But in fact, that's exactly what the music to be heard in here does: "Mood Indigo" shows Bean at his rhapsodic best and the incredible string of ideas he pulls out of his horn leaves no doubt where his nickname derives from, this solo ranks among his most famous ones. "Self Portrait of the Bean" has its opening theme built on Strayhorn's "Snibor", though some go for "Grievin'", which I can't agree on. The theme is not entirely new thus, but it's the imposing bridge that's genuinely Ellington, really one of a kind, rendered by Hawkins so seam- and effortlessly that you would vouch for his knowing the chords of the piece in and out, yet it was presented to him just prior to recording in the studio. Voilà comment le grand jazz est fait. Instead of going on and on, like the spinning disc in your player, I will end this rant by adding another strong incentive: The album closes with a gorgeous "Solitude", which has finally been given its due place.
The first track is hardly Jazz and certainly not what you would hope for in the hands of Ellington and Hawkins. I've certainly hear more intesting solos from Coleman Hawkins. The last track features Ray Nance on violin. Thin!! An OK disc but I wouldn't recommend it as a "must".