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Those who write about Sonny Rollins often do jazz listeners a great injustice. There is an expectation for historical, precedent-setting music. When a new Rollins disc is issued, hopes are shattered and mighty swords of regret are drawn. Usually it's because the music does not somehow measure up to the brilliant work this tenor giant did in the fifties and sixties. Or, the argument goes, Rollins' recent recordings simply can't match the powerful creative intensity of his live performances. On Global Warming, Rollins himself actually sets the tone for history-in-the-making by associating this music with his strong views on current environmental crises and dubbing the disk a contemporary variation of his own ground-breaking Freedom Suite (Riverside, 1958).
Happily, Global Warming offers plenty of great music – and, more importantly, some of the finest sounds Rollins has recorded in the last thirty years. The tenor great is at his peak; surrounding himself with sensitive, acute and individual play ers. He's also crafted some fine, memorable compositions here. What's most striking, though, is the interaction of the players involved. Pianist Stephen Scott (returning from 1996's Sonny Rollins + 3 ) consistently stands out and seems to inspire Rollins to great playing of his own. Rollins' nephew, Clifton Anderson, has never sounded better on trombone, taking several winning features on his three appearances ("Island Lady," "Global Warming" and "Clear Cut Boogie"). Drummer Idris Muhammad, whose Keystone Trio recorded a fine Rollins tribute record last year, makes his debut with Rollins here and proves himself to be a soulful asset (he's featured on "Global Warming" and "Mother Nature's Blues").
Highlights abound. There's the sassy, soulful strut of "Island Lady," where Rollins sounds positively joyful and inspired, spurred on by Scott's chunky block chords and equally lively solo (the catchy head gets repeated a few too many times though). The slow waltz of the beautiful "Echo-Side Blue" is a stand out and worthy of further exploration by other jazz interpreters. "Global Warming" is Rollins' obligatory calypso – and the man positively sings; determined to speak out and saying plenty worth hearing. Rollins successfully revisits bop on "Mother Nature's Blues" and winds up exploring the vamp-ish semi-modal cool of "Clear Cut Boogie."
Rollins remains a significant jazz voice after more than four decades in the music. And Global Warming proves to be as musically important and interesting as the social concerns which inspired it.
Personnel: Sonny Rollins: tenor sax; Stephen Scott: piano; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Idris Muhammad: drums. On "Island Lady," "Global Warming" and "Clear-Cut Boogie": Clifton Anderson: trombone; Sonny Rollins: tenor sax; Stephen Scott: piano; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Perry Wilson: drums; Victor See Yuen: percussion.