Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Vol. 2 (2011)
Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, into his eighth decade now, has nothing left to prove but keeps doing it anyway. The iconic artist has put out classic albums like Newk's Time (Blue Note Records, 1957) and Saxophone Colossus (Prestige Records, 1956) and The Bridge (RCA Records, 1962), continuing to maintain a vibrant career for more than six decades and surging forward with with 2008's Road Shows, Volume 1 (Doxy Records) and now, with Road Shows, Volume 2.
This is, as the title suggests, a live outing, with four of the six tunes recorded in 2010 at Rollins 80th birthday concert in New York City, sandwiched between Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful" and the Rollins original calypso tune, "St. Thomas," taken from a concert in Japan a month later. The saxophone giant is nothing if not robust on the opener; he's always had a straightforward, burly tone, and is one of the finest jazz artists when it comes to interpreting the standards, giving them his own powerhouse touch of originality.
The set features numerous guest slots. Rollins, MC'ing his own show, introduces guitarist Jim Hall, but sits out on a gorgeous take of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood." Trumpeter Roy Hargrove joins the band on the standard "I Can't Get Started" and Billy Strayhorn's "Rain Check," bringing in a rich tone to contrast with Rollins' gritty delivery.
The set's centerpiece and highlight is Rollins' 20-plus minute blues, "Sonnymoon for Two," featuring drummer Roy Haynes, bassist Christian McBride, and alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman. This was the first time Rollins and the free jazz legend had shared a stage, though they had practiced on the beach together in Malibu, California, in the 1950s. On this piano-less effort that hearkens back to the sound of Rollins' Freedom Suite (Riverside Records, 1958), the contrast in styles makes for a mesmerizing experienceRollins' brash, in-your-face muscularity, versus Coleman's circuitous and serpentine lines, as the two legends trade solo space.
With Road Shows, Vol. 2, Rollins reveals that in his eight decade, he is still making vital and exciting music.
Personnel: Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone; Jim Hall: guitar: (2); Russell Malone: guitar: (1, 3-5); Kobie Watkins: drums: 1, 2, 4-6); Bob Cranshaw: bass (1, 2, 4-6); Sammy Figueroa: percussion: (1,2, 4-6); Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone (3); Christian McBride: bass (3); Roy Haynes: drums (3); Roy Hargrove: trumpet (4, 5).