Fresh Sound Records has dug around in the vaults and brought us a jazz date pairing off famed brass protagonists Cootie Williams (trumpet) and Rex Stewart (cornet) that sounds as fresh as when it was recorded 49 years ago. This duo of former Ellingtonians are aided and abetted by such luminaries as Bud Freeman, Lawrence Brown, J.C. Higginbottom, Billy Bauer, Hank Jones, Gus Johnson, The "Judge" Milt Hinton and none other than famed saxophonist Coleman Hawkins rounding out the aggregation. Although most of the musicians had been on the scene since the late Twenties and early Thirties, all are at the top of their game on this 1957 date. Rather than just getting the cats together for another "blowing date", the producers wisely listened to Cootie’s counsel and brought in Ernie Wilkins to arrange the tunes in the little/big band style. Wilkins also contributes an original composition "Alphonse and Gaston".
The festivities kick off in Dukish fashion with "I’m Beginning to See the Light" and the arrangement allows us to meet the contestants and their contrasting styles. Rex and Cootie trade their way through the head followed by the melodic swing of Bud Freeman contrasted with the majesty that is Coleman Hawkins. Higgy and Brown trade their way through a chorus, then Rex and Cootie reappear, this time with open horns for the last chorus.
Next up is "Do Nothing ‘til you Hear from Me" (aka "Concerto for Cootie"), Cootie William’s signature tune, written for him by Duke Ellington, and performed in true tour de force fashion with accompanying obbligati by Coleman Hawkins. Along with his impassioned performance, Mr. Williams provides a lesson in the use of plunger mute.
"Alphonse and Gaston" is an original tune written and arranged by Ernie Wilkins. Hank Jones opens the proceedings with Milton Hinton pullin’ off the strings behind him. Lawrence Brown & J.C. Higginbottom trade a couple of trombone choruses and start heating things up. Hank Jones has another interlude leading us to the dueling tenors of Coleman Hawkins and Bud Freeman. The saxophonic duo open softly, then the sparks fly as Hawk and Bud go after each other. Another chorus of piano brings us to a Cootie and Rex challenge. Cootie opens up with the plunger, Rex with Harmon muted cornet. Another chorus from Cootie is answered by a growling Rex. Then Cootie digs into the Rex Stewart bag of tricks with some ½ valve playing, which Rex counters with open horn. The brass lead the ensemble into a chase chorus of "St. Louis Blues" to end the bout, with the listener as the clear winner.
"I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues" is opened by a plunger-muted Cootie supported by Hawk’s tenor comments and the rest of the horns in the background. Mournful trombone by Higginbottom is counterbalanced by a swinging Lawrence Brown. Cootie takes us out, growling the last chorus.
Bud Freeman starts "Walkin’ My Baby Back Home" with a sprightly swing in his step. A muted Cootie follows along the way. Coleman Hawkins takes it up a notch with his powerful swing, extending his thoughts across the bar lines. Rex treats us to his muted cornet, running lines that are almost boppish in their rhythmic sophistication.
"When Your Lover Has Gone" is treated to an opening obbligato by Hawkins followed by Cootie Williams playing through an open horn. Rex Stewart treats us to some muted half-valving with a nice cadenza closing his chorus. Bud Freeman enters for 2 choruses of emotive swing, leading to the tender/tough ballad styling of Coleman Hawkins, who also provides the closing cadenza.
The album closes with "I Knew You When" an original by Rex Stewart based on a descending blues motif. Hank Jones opens in a Basie-like vein and then provides some entre act improv in a definitely Monkish style. The tune features the two trumpets - Rex takes off the mute and the gloves, swinging hard through an open horn. Cootie answers with some Rex-like half valves, also open horned. Everyone swings on out, but closing comments by Mr. Hawkins extend into a full throated chorus. The ensemble enters with passion, swinging us out to a thoroughly enjoyable conclusion.
For many of us, this album serves as a portal to reconnect with some of our favorite players, united in a swinging pursuit. More importantly, for listener, it’s an opportunity to hear true jazz legends still playing great in the maturity of their careers.