JJ 12/80: Sonny Rollins at Royal Festival Hall

Forty years ago Sally-Ann Worsfold admired the compendious playing of the tenor titan and thought he still had more to discover. First published in Jazz Journal December 1980

Sonny Rollins

From the opening bars of the first number Sonny Rollins achieved instantaneous rapport with the capacity audience whilst also revealing his complete physical absorption in the act of playing. His movement expressed a sensual delight in the music and the saxophone became an extension of his body.

The up-tempo original opener highlighted also the unity between Rollins and his trio, who were not merely accompanists but integral contributors to the richly textured sound. Drummer Al Foster and Fender bassist Jerome Harris supplied a surging beat, whilst the latter overcame the limitations of his instrument to play some refreshingly melodic solos. Mark Soskin has adapted himself to the demands of the music with a piano style inspired by Chick Corea, Duke Jordan in its boppy aspect, and also the more fundamental bluesmen.

A virtual compendium of jazz tenor, Rollins’ enigmatic style defies category and the gradual expansion of a theme to reveal the various aspects was reflected in a wistfully strident I’m Old Fashioned, replete with an audaciously corny minor 7th ending and the powerfully terse, Isn’t She Lovely? Practically by the turn of a phrase Rollins skips from lush balladry to the atonal, via hard bop, funk and r & b, all with an underlying Caribbean rhythm. The exemplary control of his formidable technique combined with the cohesive and beautifully edited lines avoid predictability, giving form and identity to this work.

Willingly running overtime, the inevitable but still exhilarating Don’t Stop The Carnival convinced that Sonny was not only capable of playing all night without staleness but that after a lifetime at his peak many untapped resources have yet to be explored.