Many of the great improvisers from the swing era were unable to hurdle the bebop fence into relevance in the fifties, but Coleman Hawkins continued to create worthwhile records up until the end of his life. How? Not by changing his style to suit the times, but by demonstrating that his approach could fit into a variety of contexts. Thus he was able to gig with Coltrane and Monk where others might have faltered. But Hawkins also continued to lead sessions, often with the benefit of selecting the sidemen himself.
The Hawk Flies High, recorded in 1957, was the first in a series of dates that reaffirmed Hawkins as one of the greatest tenor players of all time. Joined by the powerful JJ Johnson and the lesser known but still scrappy Idrees Sulieman in the front line and an equally gifted rhythm section behind them, Hawk and company tear through a selection of tunes that blend both the small group Kansas City swing where Hawkins cut his teeth and the more modern soul jazz beginning to emerge through the efforts of younger players. There are only six cuts here, which allows everyone plenty of room to stretch out (with this much talent, it would be a crime to leave anyone out).
Although everyone solos well, Hawkins is clearly the main attraction, spitting out the raspy gusts and sweeping waves that make his solos such a delight to hear. While Hawkins can handle a ballad as prettily as anyone, the real show is on the blues numbers, like "Juicy Fruit," which features bold and assertive soloing from the tenor man and inspires everyone else to rise to the occasion as well.
Although remastered in 20 bits, somehow the balance still seems off at times, with Hank Jones virtually inaudible when all three horns are playing and Pettiford a murky presence when he solos. Despite this flaw, The Hawk Flies High is a terrific record that brought Hawkins back into the spotlight after a long period of obscurity. It kicked off a series of great records for Riverside and Prestige and even better ones for Verve. He lost little of his edge throughout his life, and the later sessions like this one are small treasures.
Personnel: Coleman Hawkins - tenor sax; Idrees Sulieman - trumpet; JJ Johnson - trombone; Hank Jones - piano; Barry Galbraith - guitar; Oscar Pettiford - bass; Jo Jones - drums.