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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove



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SONNY ROLLINS

Road Shows Vol. 1

Doxy/Emarcy 0602517815612

 

 


1. Best Wishes
2. More Than You Know
3. Blossom
4. Easy Living
5. Tenor Madness
6. Nice Lady
7. Some Enchanting Evening

Sonny Rollins - Tenor saxophone
Clifton Anderson - Trombone (tracks 1, 2, 5, 6)
Mark Soskin - Piano (tracks 1, 3, 4)
Bobby Broom - Guitar (tracks 1, 2, 6)
Jerome Harris - Electric bass (tracks 1, 3, 4)
Al Foster - Drums (tracks 1, 3, 4)
Bob Cranshaw - Bass (tracks 2, 5, 6)
Victor Lewis - Drums (track 2)
Kimati Dinizulu - Percussion (tracks 2, 6)
Stephen Scott - Piano (track 5)
Perry Wilson - Drums (track 5)
Victor See-Yuen - Percussion (track 5)
Steve Jordan - Drums (track 6)
Christian McBride - Bass (track 7)
Roy Haynes - Drums (track 7)

 

According to the sleeve-note, Sonny Rollins doesn't like listening to recordings of his past performances, as he often feels he could have played better. Luckily for us, he was persuaded allow the release of concert recordings after personally vetting them. Many of them were made over countless years by Rollins fanatic Carl Smith. The result is this: the first album in what could be a lengthy series on Rollins' own label, Doxy - and it is magnificent. Sonny's studio recordings are fine enough but, as the sleeve-note also says, "In concert, he pursues the thin line between beauty and danger".

The recordings here date from between 1980 and 2007, by a variety of different groups - from sextets to a trio. They capture Rollins in full flight and, in many ways, at his best. Sonny improvises not only on the chords of a tune but also its melody, continually creating new melodies, while salting his solos with cheeky quotations and touches of wit. Four of the seven tracks include trombonist Clifton Anderson, who was given his first trombone by Rollins when Clifton was only seven years old. The trombone blends well with Sonny's tenor sax, and Anderson manages the difficult task of keeping up with his mentor: fitting in with the unpredictable tunes that Rollins seemingly chooses on the spur of the moment, and harmonising with him sympathetically.

This is evident right from the opening Best Wishes, a catchy Rollins original with a bluesy twelve-bar structure, on which the tenorist plays more than 30 choruses! The 1986 Tokyo audience is understandably ecstatic. The tempo slows down for a 2006 performance of More Than You Know, on which Clifton Anderson plays the bridge - although Sonny can't help joining in. There is so much music in him that he just has to express it. Rollins is exciting on up-tempo numbers but ballads like this often bring out something extra, as he explores a theme at a leisurely pace but with a mind that is working overtime. Every Rollins solo on this CD is like an exploration of uncharted territory. He ends the second track with a long unaccompanied coda which keeps referring back to the tune, like a traveler checking a map but still choosing his own path.

Blossom is a Rollins composition never before heard on record. Carl Smith recorded it at a 1980 jazz festival in Sweden. The tune twists and turns before pianist Mark Soskin and bassist Jerome Harris take solos over the Latin rhythm. Then it's back to Rollins for a long, fiery solo: long-held notes contrasting with swirling sounds and almost-avant hoots and honks.

Easy Living is the pinnacle of this album's achievements: another ballad which Rollins delivers with probing invention. After Sonny's questing theme statement, Mark Soskin gives us a beautifully thoughtful piano solo. Sonny's solo is a masterpiece of exploration, including a quotation from Maybe You'll Be There and an unaccompanied passage which takes wondrous liberties with time. This track was recorded in Warsaw in 1980 but it sounds entirely of today.

Sonny first recorded Tenor Madness with John Coltrane in 1956. The recording here dates from 2000 and was made at a concert in Japan. Again, Rollins stretches out for innumerable bluesy choruses which, in the hands of many other players, could be tiresome but Sonny keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. Nice Lady takes us into the calypso world of Rollins' most famous tune: St Thomas, with a similarly simple but memorable theme and infectious rhythm. Trombonist Clifton Anderson gets little solo space in this album but he does a long, satisfying solo on this track. Then Sonny takes a comparatively short solo, followed by percussionist Rimati Dinizulu improvising alone on the conga drums.

The CD ends with Some Enchanted Evening, recorded in 2007 at Carnegie Hall as part of a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of his first concert there. Rollins is backed simply by bassist Christian McBride and veteran drummer Roy Haynes (Sonny first recorded with Roy in 1949 for a Bud Powell session). Once more, a ballad brings out the best in Rollins as he toys with the length of notes but stays close to the melody. Christian McBride's furnishes sturdy support on string bass and then does a strong solo, while Haynes breaks up the rhythm in his characteristic manner.

This last track reminds us that, 50 years ago, Sonny Rollins was already a very fine tenor-saxist. On this album, he is supreme. Other saxophonists have been more highly praised for being "experimental" but every note that Rollins plays is an experiment, with virtually nothing premeditated. Truly the sound of surprise.

 

Tony Augarde 



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