Sonny Rollins: With the Modern Jazz Quartet (2003)
These represent Rollins' first recordings as a leader, and it's astonishing how fully formed his style was even early on in his career. The middle selections are agreeable hard bop tunes and standards, but nothing you haven't heard before (especially if you've heard Rollins' other records). Rollins was truly blessed with the rhythm section of Kenny Drew, Percy Heath, and Art Blakey, who take a workmanlike approach to their duties, and the quartet seems to effortlessly glide through a variety of tunes. Rollins certainly knows how to handle the changes, but had yet to realize his full potential.
The real treats are the tracks featuring the Modern Jazz Quartet, recorded two years later. The brash tenor of Rollins and the chamber music leanings of the MJQ may seem like an odd matchup, but the music has a depth and grace not heard on the other tracks due to Lewis' devotion to texture and composition. "In A Sentimental Mood" showcases Rollins' melodic gifts over a bed of shimmering vibes and sparse piano; "The Stopper" is a funky Rollins original with a little more edge than the MJQ may have preferred. Rollins sounds more assured and confident, and we can see glimmers of the gentlemanly approach to jazz the MJQ would patent a year later with Django. If the whole session featured the pairing, we would certainly have a classic. Instead, this CD is a decent representation of the early efforts of both, but not a definitive recording of either.
The last track was quickly recorded at the end of a Miles Davis session, and is of marginal interest simply because Miles plays piano.
Track Listing: 1. The Stopper 2. Almost Like Being In Love 3. No Moe 4. In A Sentimental Mood 5. Scoops 6. With A Song In My Heart 7. Newk's Fadeaway 8. Time On My Hands 9. This Love Of Mine 10. Shadrack 11. On A Slow Boat To China 12. Mambo Bounce 13. I Know.
Personnel: Sonny Rollins-tenor saxophone; Kenny Drew, Miles Davis, John Lewis-piano; Milt Jackson-vibes; Percy Heath-bass; Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Kenny Clarke-drums.
Record Label: Fantasy Jazz