COLEMAN HAWKINS — Supreme (review)

COLEMAN HAWKINS — Supreme album cover Live album · 1995 · Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Steve Wyzard

So identified with the 1930s-50s, many people are stunned to find out that Coleman Hawkins was still both recording and performing well into the 1960s. Even more are surprised to learn that he outlived John Coltrane by two years. Supreme, released in 1995 on Enja Records, is from a concert on September 25, 1966 at the Left Bank Jazz Society in Baltimore. This was recorded very near the end of his run as one of the most influential tenor saxmen ever. He was just short of 62 and dealing with a number of health issues that would shortly send him to retirement. Backed by Barry Harris, piano, Gene Taylor, bass, and Roy Brooks, drums and producer, his tone is nowhere near what it used to be, but he is still well worth hearing.

You've heard the rumors: so how much does Hawkins actually play on this album? Let's break it down, track by track:

1. "Lover Come Back to Me" (17:09): first 6 minutes, last 2 minutes. 2. "Body and Soul" (10:09): throughout (naturally). 3. "In Walked Bud" (16:42): first 5-1/2 minutes, last 1-1/2 minutes. 4. "Quintessence" (9:05): first 5-1/2 minutes, last 2 minutes. 5. "Fine and Dandy" (10:30): first 3-1/2 minutes, last 1-1/2 minutes. 6. "Ow" (1:27): throughout.

As you can see, Hawkins spends a lot of this concert not playing. While surely some of this can be attributed to his generosity with soloing space (and it should be mentioned that Harris, Taylor, and Brooks are all exceptional players), no doubt it can also be explained by the old, used-and-abused diaphragm not being what it used to be. It's easy to hear that those in attendance that night were in absolute awe of seeing a living legend at this late date. There's an especially overwhelming ovation after Hawk's opening solo on "Quintessence".

It should also be mentioned that there are some faults with the source tape that occasionally produce strange echoes/distortions with the recorded sound. If you can overlook these caveats, you should enjoy listening to this performance. But do not begin listening to Supreme with any idea that it is his "greatest" or even "most representative" concert recording. While he did start out in the early days of recorded sound, there are plenty of opportunities out there to explore Coleman Hawkins in his prime. Listen to this album for what it is: an old master near the end of the line, playing the music he loves in spite of the setbacks of age.
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