The Hawk Flies High - Coleman Hawkins review

The Hawk Flies High - Coleman Hawkins review
This week’s review is The Hawk Flies High a re-issue showcasing tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. This album was originally released in 1957 but new listeners will still find the jazz featured here fresh and cheeky. Coleman Hawkins was in his fifties when he recorded the album (completing the project in just two afternoons!) and provides hope to any middle aged person contemplating that slippery descent into Fogey-dom. Not only did Coleman still have major contributions to share, there is no evidence of any repetition or ennui in his playing – he harnesses all of his swing sensibilities and boils it down to a potent reduction of straight bop on this record – and still has plenty of edge to carry it off, thanks for asking …

Apparently, there was a conversation between Keepnews and Hawkins – kind of a flippant ‘what if’ back and forth – in which Coleman was asked who his musical dream team would be if he was allowed to choose whomever he wanted to work with on a record. Coleman Hawkins took Orrin Keepnews at his word and almost instantly produced a list (a very intelligent, well considered list) and The Hawk Flies High became a reality.

The musicians who made The List include the gentle and accomplished Hank Jones on piano (who recently provided backing for Diana Krall even though he is in his nineties now) and who was also Ella Fitzgerald’s accompanist of choice for years.

Oscar Pettiford on bass was from the Duke Ellington school of swing and trumpet player,Idrees Sulieman was known for his ‘circular’ breathing which allowed him to maintain a single note for literally, minutes! Trombonist J.J.Johnson was asked along not only for his incredible speed but also for his appreciation for the more modern direction that jazz was headed in. Jo Jones on drums had experience playing with Count Basie in the 1930’s and Barry Galbraith on guitar was known for his skill and excellence as a studio musician. So the entire ensemble is basically a heady blend of ‘Old School’ and those who were keen to push the limits.

Chant is a catchy, ambitious, swing tune that starts the cd off with some cocky, strident sax runs that set the tone for all that is to follow. As with all of the tracks here, there is plenty of room left for the other musicians to limber up and show what they’ve got (and incidentally what they’ve got happens to be pretty mindblowing!) Pianist Hank Jones also composed this piece.

Juicy Fruit features the amazingly long, dramatic single note alluded to earlier from Idrees Sulieman, who also composed this track. This is another stunning example of a musical ‘telephone game’ with melodies being passed around at top speed and becoming reshaped and kneaded as they go. Love it!

Sancticity is my favourite. Tension filled and intentionally sleazy at times (in the best possible way of course) this Hawkins original is a joyous romp. The musicians really let rip!

This is an enjoyable and important record and although it is not very long (just over half an hour) everything on it is stellar and not to be missed. Hawk Flies High is not only an excellent introduction to Coleman Hawkins but also to the the tenor saxophone. And if you’re just tuning in to sax on this album? You’d be starting at the top.

Buy The Hawk Flies High on CD at!

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