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Sonny Rollins made several albums for the RCA Victor label, but "Sonny Meets Hawk" is his best and is easily in his top 10 recordings of all-time. This material, which boasts one of the best remastering jobs on CD in recent memory, was recorded over three sessions in 1963. By this time Sonny was beginning to explore some new, outward directions in his playing. Because of this some fans might be worried that a partnership with Coleman Hawkins, defintely a previous generation's saxophone colossus, would squelch Rollins. Well you needn't be! Coleman Hawkins came to this session with an open mind, and his playing has never been more free. Think of Sonny, as the rebelious youth who is mature enough to respect the father figure, but it is Hawk who is a cool enough dad to get hip to what the son is saying. Just listen to their simultaneous solos on "Summertime," and the mutual understanding and cohesion are perfectly clear.

I could go on about Sonny and Hawk, but this album has too many other wonderful facets I don't want to overlook. The band on the first six tracks (the original "Sonny Meets Hawk" recorded during two sessions in July '63) is stellar with Paul Bley joining on piano, longtime Rollins comrade Bob Cranshaw alternating with Henry Grimes on bass, and an outstanding drummer who I have never heard of before, Roy McCurdy. All four of these men makes invaluable contributions to this album, but I want to take a moment to discuss the merits of the seldom recognized Henry Grimes. Grimes is one of the 60s and the New Jazz's greatest bass players. His style is similar to that of Scott LaFaro's, as both simultaneously maintain the rhythm and meter, yet play seemingly outside of it. Additionally, the sound of the bass on this recording is some of the best I have ever heard on CD -- rich and full in tone, every note stands out.

As if "Sonny Meets Hawk" didn't have enough going for it, this remastered CD also includes three tracks from a February '63 session with Don Cherry. These three tunes are phenomenal, and you've never heard three standards probed so thoroughly and then turned inside out. For this session, Grimes again lends his considerable talent on bass, and Cherry is reunited with Ornette bandmate Billy Higgins on drums. This session is no mere bonus, as the style easily melds with the original "Sonny Meets Hawk" album.

In all, "Sonny Meets Hawk" is a classic meeting of jazz giants bridging the generation gap. Even more importantly, it is a shining example of the creative musical mind challenging itself to reach new levels of achievement.
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on April 24, 2004
Meet Sonny Rollins: giant both in stature and musicianship and moreover, one of the best improvising musicians of all time. He doesn't run the changes. He doesn't have "filler". He weaves stories of melodies. And on this occasion he is joined by the Bean, Coleman Hawkings, a major influence in Sonny's music.
Whereas the songs selected for this date are standards, their treatment is anything but standard. You'll hear plenty of outside playing, especially from Sonny but equally from pianist Paul Bley ( eg: All the Things You Are, At McKie's ). This CD includes 3 extra songs not on the original 1963 release of Sonny Meets Hawk. Hawk doesn't appear on these 3 cuts, but Don Cherry ( trumpet ) does.
Highlights: Sonny's haunting solo on Yesterdays. On Just Friends Sonny demonstrates, as he does so well, how to expand on the motif of a song throughout his chorus. Sonny invents his own motifs to build on when he solos on Lover Man. He does the same on At McKie's*. In fact, its his trademark, so you better get used to it.
* = extra-credit if you can snap your fingers to beat '1' of every measure during this tune.
I'll unfairly weigh this disk against other Rollins' recordings: Newk's Time, Saxophone Colossus and The Bridge and thus can only give this 4 stars. Measured against most other artists' works Sonny Meets Hawk is 5 stars hands down. Wanna hear true 5 stars: check out those other Rollins recordings I mentioned!
You'll find your self nodding in agreement and saying "yeah" more than once listening to this gem. You'll even get a few laughs. Its just what you'd expect from Sonny.
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VINE VOICEon August 30, 2005
As a rule, I tend to find records designed around the idea of jazz giants meeting to typically be a bit... overblown. Great players get together for no reason other than to play together and the result is often less than exciting-- usually it sounds contrieved and no one really pushes the envelope. As such, it seems that everytime I pop in "Sonny Meets Hawk", I do so with reservation-- two great tenor saxess of their respective generations-- Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins, playing a bunch of standards together. It sounds quite frankly like a recipe for another yawner.

And it seems that every time I play the record, I'm shocked and amazed by how good it is-- Rollins, a year into his return from his sabbatical-- is fierce and puts forth some of his best playing. Pushed no doubt by his rhythm section's free jazz leanings (pianist Paul Bley, bass by either Bob Cranshaw or Henry Grimes, and drums by Roy McCurdy) and his recent experience playing with Don Cherry and Billy Higgins (where Rollins sounded a bit out of place), the leader is all over, teetering on the edge of outside and expressing himself with an energy and passion that even the past few records, as good as they are, lack. Hawkins, not to be outdone, pulls the stops as well, and while playing conventionally, rises to the challenge.

This is probably best illustrated by the extended "Loverman"-- Hawkins states the theme and solos lyrically, then starts trading solo space with Rollins. Rollins is fierce, Hawkins cuts him off and is fiercer. This builds and builds until Rollins wails in the extreme upper register of the horn and, as if to admit defeat, Hawkins retreats back to the theme. Other highlights include a smokey take on "Summertime" (featuring a stunning solo from Henry Grimes) and great inside-out playing by Rollins on "All the Things You Are". Stil, there's a downer in throwaway jam "At McKie's"-- an uptempo number, it gets a pretty lifeless performance that feels like a letdown at the end of the record.

One kind of blah track aside, its quite an album, recommended for fans of Rollins. Hawkins fans might find it a curiosity, but not essential.
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Upon first hearing this in college, I'm not sure if I was more shocked or saddened. Sonny had come out of his self-imposed hiatus, trying to work out an answer to the challenge represented by Coltrane and "Giant Steps," and rather than surrender an inch of the field to Hawk's harmonic genius, he decided to become field general, playing the game on his own terms--leaning more to the experimental harmelodics of Ornette than the comprehensive harmonies of Hawk or the complex ones of Trane.

The favorable ratings the album appears to garner, even after all these years, recently led me to return to it--for the last time. I'm afraid that upon hearing this at an impressionable young age, I began to think that either all of the jazz history texts were totally wrong in their high praise of Coleman Hawkins and his ability to play in any style or context or that Hawkins was washed up at the time of this recording. It wasn't until 40 years later that the damage gradually came undone, largely as a result of listening to albums like "Night Hawk" (Hawk and Jaws in an utterly complementary tenor match); "The Hawk Relaxes" (with rhythm section, a Van Gelder recording); "The Big Challenge" (3 pairs of dueling horns on the Jazzland label); several Riverside albums on which he's featured with Max and Abbey; "Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins" (on Impulse, more essential that the Ellington-Coltrane meeting); and above all "The High and Mighty Hawk" (a British recording with Hank Jones and Ray Brown, as close to perfection as it gets).

Whether this mismatch was Sonny's doing or some clever producer's at RCA Victor, it does both great saxophonists an injustice, at least to these ears. And all the more so given the personnel. We know that Sonny could have played more "inside" on this "friendly" occasion, recalling the Rollins of "Saxophone Colossus," "Sonny Rollins Vol. 1," "Newk's Time" (an overlooked gem), "Way Out West," and "The Bridge"--not for the sake of cloning each other's personal style but to ensure a result that would, at the very least, represent a common ground, a similar genre, a comparable idiom. Moreover, he had the personnel who could quickly adapt. (I recall, later in the '60s, catching Roy McCurdy, who is still extremely fit, able and active on the West Coast, staying right in the pocket for Cannonball, Nat, and Zawinul in Milwaukee, digging the kind of deep groove that Hawk simply thrived on.)

And to think that I once thought the three recordings of Miles with Sonny Stitt from 1960 (concerts in Paris and Stockholm) represented a totally misguided, extremely unfortunate match-up! (Miles later even said as much.) Compared to "Sonny Meets Hawk" the pairing of Miles and Stitt sounds like Guy Lombardo (again, just a comparison--not necessarily a judgment. Louis was a big fan of Guy, just as I am of Louis).

(Qualifier: Mine is one listener's reaction to "Sonny Meets Hawk." Note that my title merely offers a personal feeling, not any sort of "objective judgment." If the session made you think no less of Hawk's playing than of Sonny's, then it may very well be a 5-star desert island disc. But if you give it 5 stars, please don't do so out of some notion like "Sonny Shoots Down the Hawk," or "Sonny Teaches the Father of the Tenor Saxophone How to Play." )

2 stars for Hawk's passionate playing on the Jerome Kern opener; 0 for Sonny's flutter/stutter tonguing.
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on June 3, 2013
I bought this as a birthday gift for a Dave Brubeck fan who loved it. Anyone who is a fan of Take Five will enjoy listening to this cd.
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on February 18, 2016
Great CD, great music
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on October 16, 2006
For those who have been so ingracious as to say bad things about what may be Sonny Rollins' best album, I have two things to say: stop reviewing music and, if applicable, stop playing music. Instead, please go see Lou Donaldson and Lee Ritenour at the Playboy Jazz festival with your overweight wife and your malnourished imagination. Not only is Rollins' tone remarkable on this album for its astounding range of tambers, but also his are some of the most interesting solos in all of modern jazz. People often accuse avant-garde music of either having no sense of humor or too much of one; Sonny, however, has the wit of an 18th century British poet and the sensibility of a, well, of a Sonny Rollins. Please play close attention to the solo on All the Things You Are.
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VINE VOICEon January 6, 2006
Somehow the style that Sonny tried out does not entirely work in this record. Of course it is tempting to doubt the humble reviewer when you have musicians like Paul Bley, Coleman Hawkins and Don Cherry (even though they play in diferent dates and groups) as band mates. You'd expect great things to happen. And they do from time to time. But some of the 'shrieks' and other nonesense that Sonny tries sound out of place with the music the group is playing. Worth a listen though, as some good stuff is always willing to surface and make you smile.
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on April 23, 2006
I got this CD from one of my teachers, and I really expected something great. I mean, sonny rollins with colemann hawkins. how could that be bad?

well first of all, i don't know what was up with sonny's tone. It sounds like his tone today, which is terrible. And what is up with all the trilling. In a lot of the songs i heard all this trilling coming from Sonny and Hawk, and it sounds rediculous.

This album overall is just terrible. If you wont to see what happens when to REAL giants of jazz play together, check out all the recordings with Stitt and Jug.
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