1. Darn That Dream
2. Standards Medley into There Will Never Be Another You
3. The Song Is You
4. On Green Dolphin Street/Night and Day
Sonny Rollins - Tenor sax
Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen - Bass
Alan Dawson - Drums
The 1960s were a time when Sonny Rollins was experimenting with avant-garde jazz, although this disc of previously unreleased recordings shows how it is possible to play "free" jazz on the basis of actual tunes, which helps the listener to follow Rollins' train of thought. In fact the sleeve-notes quote Sonny as saying that "when I really get into a solo, my mind is completely blank". This may be how he viewed his methods but the logic in the playing suggests that there is strong reasoning behind it, even if it is instinctive.
Rollins gives himself greater latitude by dispensing with a piano
and using simply bass and drums as accompaniment. The bassist is the
marvellous Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, who supplies a strong foundation
over which Sonny can improvise freely. In the opening Darn That
Dream, Pedersen is virtually the only accompanist, since drummer
Alan Dawson can't do much in a slow ballad except swish the brushes
around. Niels-Henning not only provides solid support but contributes
a skilful solo. Rollins possibly made a bad choice with Darn That
Dream, as the theme doesn't seem to offer him much leeway for
extemporization. Instead, he stays fairly close to the melody, although
he veers towards other tunes like The Surrey with the Fringe on
Top and Dearly Beloved! As always, it is fascinating to
follow the twists and turns of Sonny's invention.
The Standards Medley comprises snatches of Over the Rainbow, Polka Dots and Moonbeams and several other songs but soon slides into There Will Never be Another You. It is helpful that Pedersen keeps up a steady 4/4 beat, as Sonny's improvising is more diffuse here, as though he is uncertain where to take the tune - or where to let it take him. He shares some invigorating fours with Alan Dawson.
Like the other tunes, The Song is You is used as a jumping-off point rather than a closely followed structure. Pedersen adds a long, impressive bass solo. The final track seems to reprise There Will Never Be Another You but turns into On Green Dolphin Street, followed - after a showy drum solo - by Night and Day, switching back and forth with Green Dolphin.
This CD foreshadows Rollins' more recent playing, where he uses a song (often a very unlikely show-tune) as the starting point for intriguing concoctions. This has the advantage over completely free playing of being more accessible for audiences and, in Sonny's capable hands, makes much better sense. Altogether a highly recommended album.