(Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax; Idrees Sulieman, trumpet; J.J. Johnson, trombone; Hank Jones, piano; Barry Gailbraith, guitar; Oscar Pettiford, bass; Jo Jones, drums)
Have to admit my first thought was similar to that upon seeing Mo-Fi’s new Little Richard SACD – why bother? But then the initial track of this March 1957 NYC recording session came thru my front speakers and I was immediately convinced that the bother and expense was well worth it. Hawkins was really the first player to create important jazz on the saxophone, and his rich highly individual sound is easily distinguished on all the many recordings he made during his lengthy career. He began with Fletcher Henderson’s band in the 20s, was a main figure in the 52nd Street scene in New York in the 30s, and in the 40s he jumped right into the newer sounds of modern jazz without a break. Riverside producers Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer put together a winning all star band to play with the Hawk in this hot session at NYC’s Reeves Sound Studio. The seven musicians hadn’t all played together before, but they knew and respected one another’s work and could work together in a relaxed creative atmosphere, since there were no tightly-constructed charts for the session.
The sonics are just superb – right up to Rudy Van Gelder’s level of “deep mono.” Few would realize this disc was mono only, but part of the achievement has to go to Mo-Fi’s careful remastering and the SACD process in general. (Kudos also to Mo-Fi for honestly identifying the disc as Mono on the jewel box, which most of the jazz labels fail to do.) Usually very long tracks lose my interest due to overextended solos, making me think of Jazz at the Philharmonic and its ilk. But the longest by far of these half dozen tracks at over 11 minutes – Juicy Fruit – had such a juicy groove that I found I was playing it over and over and turning up the level a bit each time. Hawkins’ lyrical delivery of the classic movie theme Laura is a classic itself. And nothing in Hawk’s style, or that of any of his compatriots, sounds dated today.
Tracks: Chant, Juicy Fruit, Think Deep, Laura, Blue Lights, Sancticity
– John Henry