Sonny Rollins: Four Classic Albums (Second Set)

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This excellent set straddles Rollins’s famous “sabbatical” of 1959-61, when he did not play in public but was at one point to be heard regularly practising on the Williamsburg Bridge that links Manhattan and Brooklyn. Hence The Bridge, which initiated Rollins’s association with RCA. Tenor Madness was recorded for Prestige, Way Out West for Contemporary and Newk’s Time for Blue Note.

Apart from his warm, satisfying sound and the fluent logic of his improvising, Rollins delighted with his unpredictable choice of relatively unknown repertoire: examples include the adaptation of Debussy’s “Reverie” and the cowboy songs interspersed with an Ellington classic (“Solitude”), a standard (“There Is No Greater Love”) and Rollins originals . . . “Come, Gone” and “Way Out West”. These were not gimmicks or send-ups: Rollins genuinely felt they were worth exploring, and created something durable and engaging out of them.

A related aspect of his playing that so many of us love is his amazing ability to call up all sorts of quotes, ancient and modern, from his remarkable card-index of a brain and stitch them into unexpected places without any sense of strain or corniness. I remember seeing him improvise for 45 minutes on “Three Little Words”, turning his solo into an encyclopaedia of jazz and other-genre standards without ever losing the thread of the source song or loosening his grip on the momentum. This skill is abundantly clear on these sessions, albeit within shorter time-frames.

The piano-less Way Out West gives him extra elbow room, with the masterful “Come, Gone” a particularly good demonstration of how he responded to the situation. The post-sabbatical The Bridge finds him with guitar instead of piano as his chording colleague. His tone sometimes seems a little more burred at the edges, and there is an added spikiness in places on “John S” and the title track, but otherwise there was little unexpected or new in his playing. That’s fine by me as it was outstanding to start with.

Discography
CD1: [Tenor Madness] (1) Tenor Madness; (2) When Your Lover Has Gone; Paul’s Pal; My Reverie; The Most Beautiful Girl in the World; [Way Out West] (3) I’m An Old Cowhand; Solitude; Come, Gone; Wagon Wheels; There Is No Greater Love; Way Out West (78.53)
CD2: [Newk’s Time] (4) Tune Up; Asiatic Raes; Wonderful Wonderful: The Surrey with the Fringe on Top; Blues for Philly Joe; Namely You; [The Bridge] (5) Without a Song; Where Are You; John S; The Bridge; (6) God Bless The Child; (5) You Do Something To Me (75.21)
Rollins (ts) with:
(1) John Coltrane (ts); Red Garland (p); Paul Chambers (b); Philly Joe Jones (d). Hackensack, New Jersey, 24 May 1956.
(2) as (1) but omit Coltrane.
(3) Ray Brown (b); Shelly Manne (d). Los Angeles, 7 March 1957.
(4) Wynton Kelly (p); Doug Watkins (b); Jones (d). Hackensack, 22 September 1957.
(5) Jim Hall (g); Bob Cranshaw (b); Ben Riley (d). NYC, 13-14 February 1962.
(6) as (5) but H.T. Saunders (d) replaces Riley. 30 January 1962.
Avid Jazz 1311