Coleman Hawkins: Body and Soul Remixed!

John Eyles By

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Coleman Hawkins: Body and Soul Remixed! This release seems likely to re-open a heated debate and cause controversy. Should classic and famous jazz performances—such as Hawk's "Body and Soul —be treated with reverence and respect and be left in peace? Or can they be used as source material for further explorations, however remote from the mood and spirit of the original? Yes, I know this is not a new debate (or a particularly fruitful one?). One only has to think of the animated reaction to Bill Laswell's Panthalassa and its sequel, Panthalassa: The Remixes, which certainly generated more heat than light!

One thing is certain, the tracks on Body and Soul Remixed! will not help to settle the argument. They are as eclectic and diverse a selection as it is possible to imagine. To my ears, they vary hugely in sensitivity (and quality) and hence provide evidence for both the prosecution and the defence.

First, the good news: John Oswald's "Bloody and Us does not add any new sounds to accompany Hawkins; instead, Oswald subtly edits and manipulates the original, stretching it out to an engrossing ten-minute version that should find favour with Hawk fans who felt shortchanged by the 1939 version's three-minute running time (dictated by the recording technology of the time). On "Soul and Body, Spring Heel Jack also leave Hawkins' playing untouched, opting to add a range of understated sounds and effects that complement and enhance the saxophone. Maybe one could quibble about some of the selections—helicopters? rhinoceros?—but the piece as a whole is an unqualified success.

Things start to get problematic with "Version 39, by legendary Kingston dubmeister Prince Charles (apparently coaxed out of semi-retirement and self-imposed exile for this album). The Prince's trademark double-time bass lines, random sound effects (is that a chainsaw?), and extensive use of reverb add little to Hawkins, and at times risk completely drowning him out.

More bizarre still is "Your Body, My Soul by DJ I-Bot. For the uninitiated, DJ I-Bot was developed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and is "the first random-access, analog robotic DJ system... which consists of a computer and three turntables that can mix, scratch, and cut beats like a human disc jockey. On this evidence, I-Bot's software needs a tweak... or maybe it is meant to produce soundscapes that verge on the ridiculous. Personally, I found the random inclusion of samples of Julie Andrews, James Last (I think) and Morrisey tended to detract from my enjoyment of Hawkins, rather than enhancing it. Surreal.

Finally, a mystery. The press release that accompanies this CD is almost bursting to reveal the identity of DJ Shady, dropping very large hints that he is a Very Famous Person—but not large enough to give away who he is. Be that as it may, DJ Shady has produced a track that is truly excreable, the kind that gives remixes a very bad name. The inclusion of a rigidly metronomic rhythm track, amped-up fuzz guitar break, and a prolonged rap interlude are unsympathetic and destroy the subtlety of the original track. Do you want to hear it? I suspect not. Will you have a choice? I suspect not—it is being released as a single soon and is being heavily promoted already. You have been warned!

Track Listing: Your Body, My Soul; Soddy and Bowl; Bloody and Us; Version 39; Writing In Water; Soul and Body.

Personnel: Coleman Hawkins: tenor saxophone; DJ I-Bot; DJ Shady; John Oswald; Prince Charles; Silver Surfer; Spring Heel Jack.

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Verve Music Group | Style: Beyond Jazz

April fools!


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