The Hawk Flies High
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2008, Volume 15, #7
Written by John Metzger
Wed July 23, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Anyone who believes that the problems with the major label system are a product of modern times is seriously mistaken. Long before executives in the record industry were meddling with the artistic pursuits of rock stars, they were tampering with the creative decisions of jazz artists. Much like today, it was left to independently operated start-ups to push the boundaries of what was acceptable and instigate whatever shifts in perspective were needed to keep things interesting. In other words, the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same.
For decades, Coleman Hawkins had been widely recognized as the man who was responsible for making the saxophone a mainstay of jazz ensembles. Once he had achieved success as a performer of ballads, however, he was sequestered into a predefined mold by his partners in the music business. Consequently, when Orrin Keepnews, co-founder of Riverside Records, approached Hawkins about the prospects of recording whatever he wanted with whomever he wanted, the tenor player jumped at the opportunity to redefine himself.
Working with a seven-piece band that mixed industry veterans with relatively unknown commodities, Hawkins captured, over the course of two days in March 1957, the tracks that were fused together to form The Hawk Flies High. Not only did the album demonstrate greater range and diversity than most of Hawkins’ efforts, but it also made the case that he wasn’t yet ready to cede the spotlight to up-and-comers like John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.
There’s no question that The Hawk Flies High is a historically important set of material. At the same time, though, it didn’t completely translate the possibilities that it represented into reality. Over the preceding years, the members of Hawkins’ assembled entourage had plenty of opportunities to connect with one another through an array of other outfits. While familiarity certainly helped to elevate the endeavor and keep it on a consistently even keel, the collective as a unit lacked the finely honed chemistry that a regular touring outfit would have had.
Nevertheless, throughout The Hawk Flies High, Hawkins revels in the forum that Keepnews wisely made available to him. His solos are vibrant, playful, and edgy, but often, he doesn’t obtain the level of interactive dialogue with his band that would have made the set a certifiably classic recording. Consequently, Blue Lights is nothing more than a round robin for the soloists, and lovely as it is, the ballad Laura feels constrained by its arrangement.
Not surprisingly, the best moments on The Hawk Flies High occur whenever Hawkins and his collective relax and follow the material wherever it leads. The unity of the rhythm section, for example, truly shines in the early stages of Juicy Fruit. Employing a technique known as circular breathing, trumpeter Idrees Sulieman unleashes a lengthy, single-note blast from his horn that easily could have been the death knell of the tune as well as the album. Behind him, however, the band manages to build significant momentum around Juicy Fruit’s loosely swinging groove, and Sulieman subsequently launches into a lively solo from which everyone else takes their cue. Likewise, the set-closing Sanctity is so giddy and joyful that it stands as the most compelling track on the endeavor. Naturally, it’s here, within the exuberance of the final cut, that the deficiencies of The Hawk Flies High as well as the astounding potential of Hawkins’ new group clearly come into focus. ˝
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box