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The sound of Sonny Rollins is unmistakable. Instantly recognizable when he plays just one note, this living legend has long stood out in the crowd of tenor players during the remarkable six decades he's been recording and playing.
Since Rollins took control of his music publishing a few years ago, releasing recordings under his own label, Doxy, the possibility of hearing some of Rollins' live music was raised. Apparently 200 live performances have been recorded since the 1980s, and the saxophonist, along with his producer/trombonist/nephew Clifton Anderson, has been selecting takes to release. Road Shows Vol. 1 is the first, in what promises to be a long line of sound documentation to be published.
The seven tracks heard here were recorded over three decades between 1980 and 2007, what an amounts to an entire career for some musicians. The array of players rotates, but the one constant here is that Rollins sound. In 1980 Warsaw, Poland, he plays "Easy Living," as part of a quintet with pianist Mark Soskin. The restraint is evident, with Rollins sticking closely to the melody and, as he is legend to do, working and reworking it thrillingly. He unleashes a bit more fire on the classic "Tenor Madness," made famous in a 1956 recording with the then relatively unknown saxophonist John Coltrane. This version, from Japan in 2000, bounces and bops with a remarkable vitality of a player at least half his age.
The Rollins listening experience includes a calypso, of course, and here it is a 2007 performance of "Nice Lady" from Victoria, Canada. Long before jam bands, Rollins could hold a crowd's rapt attention with his cascades of notes and hypnotic repetition of theme. A calypso has always been the perfect format for the genuine narcotic of the Rollins sound.
The disc ends with a performance from the much talked-about 50th anniversary concert in 2007 at Carnegie Hall with Christian McBride and Roy Haynes. Much as he did in 1958, Rollins opens with "Some Enchanted Evening," from South Pacific, in this same venue with this same drummer. The youngster here was 35-year-old bassist Christian McBride. While Rollins has deemed the entire concert unworthy of release, these ten minutes are simply glorious. Haynes guides the progression with his deft brushwork and McBride plays the melody behind Rollins' gentle, sometimes whispered notes.
It is often said that Sonny Rollins is best heard live. These few samples prove it is so. As the title here indicates, this is only the first volume of such performances. Here is hoping there are many, many more.
Track Listing: Best Wishes; More Than You Know; Blossom; Easy Living; Tenor Madness; Nice Lady; Some Enchanting Evening.
Personnel: Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone; Clifton Anderson: trombone; Mark Soskin: piano; Bobby Broom: guitar; Jerome Harris: bass; Al Foster: drums; Bob Cranshaw: bass; Victor Lewis: drums; Kimati Dinizulu: percussion; Stephen Scott: piano; Perry Wilson: drums; Victor See-Yuen: percussion; Steve Jordan: drums; Christian McBride: bass; Roy Haynes: drums.