Way Out West
was Sonny Rollins’ first tenor saxophone-bass-drums recording. He would follow this with the trio recordings A Night at the Village Vanguard
(Blue Note, 1999) and Freedom Suite
(Riverside/OJC, 1991). Unlike the piano-less quartets of Gerry Mulligan, Rollins did not have a counterpoint foil, as did Mulligan did in Chet Baker and later Bob Brookmeyer. The tenor trio format is full of wide-open spaces. How appropriate that this format would be chosen my Rollins for a recording entitled Way Out West
Where the recently remastered Tenor Madness clocks in at just over 35 minutes with no alternate takes, Way Out West soars to over 70 minutes with three alternate takes, two of which are twice as long as the released versions. I suspect we can forgive the brevity of Tenor Madness for the presence of Rollins and Coltrane playing the blues, but it is very nice to have an expanded Way Out West. "I’m an Old Cowhand" gets a short and extended treatment, both worthy of inclusion and release. Shelly Manne’s John Ford Western soundtrack drumming is perfect without making the song a parody. Ray Brown supplies the time and foundation over which Rollins freely improvises, taking full advantage of the space afforded him. "The Two versions of "Come, Gone" do the same thing.
Sonny Rollins’ playing is immediately attractive because of his muscular harmonic conservatism. Where he might have never have licked every scalar corner in existence as Coltrane did, he does always perform at the highest level. Way Out West remains a standard for this higher level.
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Personnel: Sonny Rollins-Tenor Saxophone; Ray Brown-Bass; Shelly Manne-Drums.