Sonny Rollins in D.C.
Sonny Rollins at the Carter Barron Amphitheater in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. August 28, 1999. The band: Stephen Scott on piano; Bob Cranshaw on electric bass; Perry Wilson on drums; Victor See Yuen on percussion; Clifton Anderson on trombone.
Well, they came out swingin'. Despite the four thousand seat venue, the band played like it was in a club. And Sonny Rollins? The emcee introduced him as "The Master" and that was no exaggeration. The guy has such command of his horn and the whole process, I just don't think there's anyone in jazz today to surpass him.
Many of Rollins' stylistic trademarks were there from the first tune ("Biji")funk, swing, modes, snatches of the melody throughout. Clifton Anderson showed that he too can sustain a really interesting prolonged solo. Anderson, who's played with Rollins since the early '80's, looked like he was really enjoying himself, getting off on Rollins' playing and having a good time. Bob Cranshaw, a Rollins band mate off and on since the mid-'60's, another complete master of his craft, played beautifully throughout (also looking very relaxed). One needs to pay close attention to Stephen Scott, whose playing is not flashy, but was filled with lots of taste and inspiration as well as technique (he also did a nice intro on kalimba - African thumb piano - for Rollins' tune "Global Warming". Perry Wilson did not look relaxed. He was too busy being extremely attentive to everything else going on in the band, providing terrific accompaniment to solos and drive through the whole concert. His solo on "They Say That Falling in Love is Wonderful" was beautifully developed in intensity and intricacy. Victor See Yuen, while a very good player,especially on congas, didn't seem to add enough color.
I talked above about some of Sonny Rollins' stylistic trademarks. I also enjoyed the way he played short phrases and rhythms behind the other players, his booming low notes, his alternation of long lines and fragments, lots and lots of modulations. His compositions, many built on calypso rhythms, are infectious. And without saying a whole lot verbally, he brought a real intensity to the affair, whether raising his fist in the air, spreading his environmental message or giving Billie Holiday her due ("You can't forget Billie Holiday because she made it possible for "The Mis-education of.....Lauryn Hill").Just a final word on another feature which made this concert so enjoyable, the amphitheater itself. Set in the woods of D.C.'s Rock Creek Park, which is run by the National Park Service, this is a beautiful venue. Ticket price was a mere $16 ($18 for phone charge), seating was general admission and there were no bad ones. Include disability access and free parking and you have an incomparable concert situation. Your tax dollars at work!