Recorded in England in 1958, this little-known session, originally released on the obscure Felsted label, is an inarguable gem. Perhaps even the word "masterpiece" is not too much of a stretch. It's doubtful that the putative "father of the tenor saxophone," Coleman Hawkins, made a better recording in the age of long-playing records, and it's just as unlikely that a better example of the impeccable touch and melodic inventiveness of the prolific Hank Jones can be found on any other recording featuring the versatile, style-resistant pianist.
Jazz history books frequently use Hawkins to exemplify the "harmonic" approach to improvisation which, unlike the "melodic" approach of Lester Young, is exhaustive in its arpeggiating the chords of a song, outlining them moreover in a regular "trochaic" rhythm (heavy/light stress) that practically replicates the drummer's work on the ride cymbal. There's little better evidence of this approach than on the opening "Bird of Prey Blues," a blues during which Hawkins locks in tight with the rhythm section and, without letting up on the accelerator, drives hard through 18 relentlessly virile choruses in the key of G.
Every bit as impressive are Jones' two solo spots: first, two seducing choruses that are warm and inviting, then following Hawkins with a second seven-bar stretch, a reminder that the late piano giant could be no less inspired than tasteful. Perhaps even more dazzling is his support of the soloistsminimalist whole-note chords behind the active Hawkins, block-chorded descending riffs during the more conservative trumpet playing of Buck Clayton, then Count Basie plinks followed by perfectly placed nudges, during a characteristically muscular Ray Brown bass solo.
Collectors who have waited until mid-summer 2010 to acquire this digitally remastered edition will be doubly rewarded. A session recorded the previous weekwith swing era trumpet star Roy Eldridge and the redoubtable bassist George Duvivierhas been included with the featured date. Taken together, the sessions offer a contrast between the fiery Eldridge and the resourceful Clayton that's somewhat reminiscent of Charlie Parker's two quintets, one featuring the pyrotechnical Dizzy Gillespie and the other a reserved Miles Davis.
More importantly, the pianist on both of the present sessions remains the same. In fact, Miles Davis' lavish praise of Jones, as reported in the liner notes for a renowned album of the same yearCannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else (Blue Note, 1958)might be even more applicable to The High and Mighty Hawk, with music that is no less exceptional, despite featuring players whose reputations had been established almost 30 years earlier. Now, more than 50 years later, it glistens with unflagging freshness, swing, and vitality.
Bird of Prey Blues; My One and Only Love; Vignette; Ooh-Wee, Miss G.P.!; You've Changed; Get Set; Sunday; Hanid; Honey Flower; Honey Flower [alternate take]; Nabob.
Coleman Hawkins: tenor sax; Buck Clayton: trumpet (1-7); Hank Jones: piano; Mickey Sheen: drums; Ray Brown: bass (1-7); Roy Eldridge: trumpet (8-11); George Duvivier: bass (8-11).