For those who believe that Sonny Rollins’ best days as a recording artist are well behind him: think again. This Is What I Do is an unmitigated triumph, a performance that will impress anyone who takes the art of jazz seriously. As the six cuts on the disc attest, Rollins is clearly not content to rest on a half-century of improvisational brilliance. Aside from his intelligence, savvy, and hard-earned experience, Rollins continues to emanate a sense of bravado as well as a willingness to take risks that vitalize the music as a whole.
The first thing that is evident on “Salvador,” the opening track, is Rollins’ sound, which cuts through the rest of the band (including the electric bass of Bob Cranshaw) without being overly harsh. He states the theme repeatedly, but never exactly the same way twice, and eases into an extended flight. Thriving on the cyclical, repetitive structure of the composition he plays with remarkable assurance, and goes down a variety of paths without losing the thread that holds the patchwork together. Drummer Jack DeJohnette and Cranshaw enliven pianist Stephen Scott’s estimable solo with some rhythmically fluid accompaniment, and then Rollins returns for a brief, exclamatory turn going back to the theme.
“Did You See Harold Vick?” is a mundane funk tune that serves as a starting point for a Rollins marathon. At first including some brief chordal remarks by Scott and then with just Cranshaw’s sparse, droll comments and drummer Perry Wilson’s efficient back beat, Rollins solo gets tougher and more insistent as he goes along. There is a stark, pointed quality to his improvisation even as he ambles through speech-like phrases and spits out an occasional flurry of notes.
The most remarkable cut on the disc is Rollins’ twisted performance of “Sweet Leilani.” The tune, taken at a deliberately slow tempo, manages to sound both sacred and profane, with touches of gospel as well as blues declarations that are suggestive of a long, libation-filled night. With the rhythm section providing solicitous support, Rollins’ solo purrs, growls, mumbles, and shouts. Reeling across bar lines, he makes a compelling statement that speaks of both elation and wariness. Sometimes he hangs back and dwells on a note or a phrase for what seems like an eternity; or, he goes into overdrive and can’t get the notes out fast enough. Scott follows with a turn that is nearly as persuasive, and then, clamoring for the last word, Rollins reappears, this time imposing a warped magnificence on the music that makes everything complete.
Personnel: Sonny Rollins--tenor saxophone; Clifton Anderson--trombone; Stephen Scott--piano; Bob Cranshaw--electric bass; Jack DeJohnette--drums; Perry Wilson--drums.