Sonny Rollins: No Problem

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Many of Sonny’s later albums are gentle breezes, a spot of happy singing without the tense surge of his earlier work. No Problem is a good example of this: Sonny had made pianoless albums before ( Way Out West, Freedom Suite ), and albums where guitar replaced piano ( The Bridge ), but this sounds like none of those. Think of this as a vacation, with simple pleasures and sunny rhythm. Some don’t like Rollins from this era, but this has its moments.

“No Problem” is a slow dance, Sonny paralleled by Bobby Hutcherson. Bobby has sustain, but not much vibrato; as he doesn’t comp much, the guitar is more the “piano” than he is. The pace slows, and Bob Cranshaw gets some echoey fuzz from his bass. Bobby Broom makes a smooth sound, slides mixing with rapid Pat Martino runs. Hutch chords gently behind him, and it slows further. Come Bobby’s solo we get more heat, with a rolling up-and-down pattern that keeps getting faster. When Sonny returns he has a little more force than before, but is still laid-back. The vibes-guitar blend works, and gets stronger right as the tune fades.

The goal of peaceful warmth is better reached on “Here You Come Again”, a surprisingly good pop cover. Hutcherson sounds like a marimba on the theme, with vibrato on the solos. Broom twangs us some blues. Sonny sticks close to the theme, and once he gets going he spins simple riffs with infectious joy. A three-note pattern is shouted to great effect, and there’s a surprising squeal in the upper reaches. The energy goes up on Hutcherson’s “Jo Jo”, a nice theme with call and response. Tony Williams lays the cymbals, and Sonny takes off with some of his familiar drive. Bobby is deep and endless, dropping notes and having fun with the chords. Sonny’s second turn is better than his first, and it ends too soon.

We go to the islands for “Coconut Bread”, set up with a long fadein and tangy licks from Broom. Hutcherson takes the role of steel drummer, and his notes ring long. Sonny’s tone changes here, and he gets a growly honk at the end of his solo. Williams’ bit is spiced with blunt xylophone notes from Hutch; at times you don’t know whose solo it is. Sonny does more of the high squealing from “Here You Come Again”, and then boils with a furious tumble of notes. The steel drum returns, and we are done, taking in the shade as it winds down.

“Penny Saved” is a simple riff with a light touch of funk (that’s the bass.) Broom has a good solo with lots of bends; Hutcherson is especially warm. Sonny’s best bit comes at the end, some delicious guttural squawking which hits you just before it fades. “Joyous Lake” is a splashy funk riff, reminiscent of the era’s disco. Sonny starts assured, climbing the scale, gaining grit with each step. He quotes “Captown Races”, indulges in more squealing, and has his most consistent solo. Broom has a nice round tone, keeping low for a distinctive taste. Hutch is active, rolling the notes and letting the sustain do the rest. The highlight is a good theme, and Sonny’s strong voice. It’s a good sendoff to a happy, swift album.

Title: No Problem | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Milestone Records


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