1. Best Wishes
2. More Than You Know
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.