In the collective media catalog that has been developed by Sonny Rollins over the past many decades there is much that is of tangible worth, while only his recordings of the past 15 years or so tend to be dispensable in the long run. Taken together as a group, first-rate Rollins would have to include his Prestige sessions, the RCA-Victor sides, and three dates apiece for both Blue Note and Impulse. Just after the aforementioned Prestige period and prior to the Blue Notes lie the performances assembled here together for the first time in The Freelance Years
, a 5-CD boxed set which comes as Rollins gets ready to celebrate his 70th birthday later this year.
The Riverside Recordings
This set is made up of two parts, with the Riverside dates being of the earliest vintage, getting underway with tracks from the 1956 Thelonious Monk album Brilliant Corners. Of the other sessions that present Rollins as a sideman, you'll also find selections from trumpeter Kenny Dorham's Jazz Contrasts and Abbey Lincoln's That's Him, yet all three have one or two performances that don't include Rollins in the line-up and have thus not been included here.
Of the two Riverside collections under Rollins' leadership, clearly The Freedom Suite from 1958 is the most well known and critically-acclaimed. This lean trio affair with bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Max Roach would foreshadow the type of extended piano-less offerings that would reach a peak in such later albums as East Broadway Rundown. Slightly less brave, but equally gratifying, The Sound of Sonny has much to recommend it, not the least being rare Riverside appearances from pianist Sonny Clark and drummer Roy Haynes. It should also be noted that this set contains three cuts only previously available on the1957 Period release Sonny Rollins Plays. These hard-to-find gems sport a superior line-up that includes trombonist Jimmy Cleveland and pianist Gil Coggins.
The Contemporary Recordings
Both of the albums Rollins did on the West Coast for Contemporary have become avowed classics, namely Way Out West and Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders. The former is in a trio setting with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne and highlights Rollins' sly sense of humor on "I'm an Old Cowhand" and "Wagon Wheels," while the latter is a meeting of giants with Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessel, Leroy Vinnegar, Victor Feldman, and Shelly Manne on hand. If you don't know these recordings then you're missing out on some of the better recorded jazz of the past 40 years.
A serviceable addition to the previous packaging of all of Rollins' Prestige sides, this shrewd pairing of Rollins' Riverside and Contemporary oeuvre was a sharp move on Fantasy's part and should serve as a perfect birthday gift for Sonny when he gets ready for the big seven-o come September.Collective