1. I'm an Old Cowhand
3. Come, Gone
4. Wagon Wheels
5. There is No Greater Love
6. Way Out West
7. I'm an Old Cowhand (alternate take)
8. Come, Gone (alternate take)
9. Way Out West (alternate take)
Sonny Rollins -Tenor sax
Ray Brown - Bass
Shelly Manne - Drums
The title of this reissued 1957 album has several implications. It was recorded "way out west" in Los Angeles, when Sonny Rollins was there with the Max Roach Quintet. It includes some cowboy tunes like I'm an Old Cowhand and Wagon Wheels. And Sonny Rollins was a fan of old-fashioned western movies, in which the hero sang to his horse while battling the baddies. Rollins chose as his accompanists two musicians - Ray Brown and Shelly Manne - who were based on the American west coast where they were busy with studio work.
This was the first of several albums which Rollins recorded with just bass and drums, and the three musicians play with remarkable integration, even though they had never worked together before. Sonny doesn't hog the limelight but gives plenty of room to his colleagues. A good example is the first take of Come, Gone (based on After You've Gone), in which Brown and Manne both get the chance to stretch out with their own solos. Even though the second version of this tune was omitted from the original album, it fully deserves to be heard, especially as it is different in several ways from the previous take.
The two versions of I'm an Old Cowhand are demonstrations of Sonny's ability to take unpromising material and turn it into jazz gold. Shelly Manne starts the tune with horse's-hoof noises on the drums, leading into a typically free-flowing solo from Rollins. Solitude and There is No Greater Love illustrate Sonny's way with a ballad, with a seemingly inexhaustible flow of invention. Ray Brown's bass solo on Solitude also displays a fund of ideas. Wagon Wheels is a lazy lope across the prairie, with Shelly Manne supplying the clippity-clop of the horse before the tune moves into a mid-tempo bounce. The ending is an astounding mixture of bowed-bass chords by Ray Brown and mercurial improvising from Rollins. Way Out West is a Rollins composition which displays his use of space, contrasted with occasional flurries of notes.
One never notices the absence of a piano, because Ray Brown lays down such a firm beat and Rollins's solos always suggest the chords behind the song. Sonny has made many splendid albums but this is one of the best.