May 2008

Coleman Hawkins - The Hawk Flies High
Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-290
Format: LP
Originally released: 1957
Reissue released: 2008

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Gather any group of jazz lovers together and you can guarantee an argument by asking them to name the king of the tenor-sax players. Many names will be bandied about -- John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Ben Webster, and a host of others. You might even get the correct answer -- Coleman Hawkins. Why Hawkins? Because he was the man who single-handedly made the tenor sax a headlining jazz instrument, thereby paving the way for all the others who followed him. His big-toned sound was a staple on the jazz scene right up until his death in 1969. His playing always stayed current -- he never let his music get into a rut.

So receiving an album like this one, reissued with the loving attention that Mobile Fidelity lavishes on all its releases, is a real treat. Recorded in mono in 1957, this album, done on the backside of a long and distinguished career, demonstrated that Hawkins still had things -- important things -- to say musically. With help from a mixture of older musicians -- like Papa Jo Jones and Oscar Pettiford -- and young lions -- like Hank Jones and Idres Sulieman -- Hawkins melded past and present into an amalgam that just said "listen and enjoy."

MoFi’s 180-gram pressing does all the justice to this slice of musical history that it deserves. I thought MoFi's SACD of this album was good (and it is), but this LP puts the digital impersonator to shame. The players seem to come alive via the vinyl in ways that the SACD can’t come close to matching. The surfaces are digital silent, which allows the music in the grooves to be fully revealed. Each instrument lives and breathes as it would if had you been in the recording studio during the time the music was laid down. Fifty-year-old tapes or no, this album sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday.

Next time the "Who is the greatest tenor player?" discussion begins, silence everyone by playing this album. Hawkins was, and still is, the king.