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Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Vol. 2

Greg Simmons By

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The Beacon Theatre in New York holds 2,700 people, and—much like fans claiming to have seen the final game of the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field—there may already be 20,000 people who swear they were there for Sonny Rollins' 80th Birthday performance. At 80 years old, Rollins is still a damn good tenor saxophonist, and Roadshows Volume 2 captures terrific performances from three 2010 live dates, with a heavy emphasis on that birthday party and some A-list guests.

There really isn't a clinker on this record, but a standout moment that will undoubtedly be remembered fondly for years is "Sonnymoon For Two." The Saxophone Colossus pioneered the piano-less trio on Way Out West (Contemporary 1957); here, the seemingly ubiquitous bassist Christian McBride and drummer Roy Haynes stand in for the late Ray Brown and Shelly Manne, respectively.

Rollins plays the track loose—improvising and recapitulating the melody before announcing an unnamed guest who has "got a horn." He then continues his tenor exploration for a few minutes more, before the crowd explodes as altoist and free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman hits the stage. Taking his turn, Coleman immediately jettisons the melody and key signature with some false notes and unrelated quotations, enjoying a healthy, extended meander before Rollins comes back to take up the thread. Clearly accepting the improvisational challenge, Rollins immediately grows louder, more powerful and attacks with greater experimental energy as the two giants stretch the song for a full 22 minutes. Eventually, they meet in the middle, with Coleman drifting into the song's key signature and Rollins staying a little further out than usual. It's far from perfect—a little ragged and unrehearsed—but the power of the performance and the sheer excitement of the moment are palpable. An historic moment, this is widely believed to be the first time Rollins and Coleman have ever shared a pubic stage.

"Rain Check" serves as proof that Rollins' skills have not diminished with age. Joined by trumpeter Roy Hargrove, Rollins is as tight, hard-charging and assured here as his peak performances of past decades; a strong reminder of how he got his reputation in the first place.

With the exception of the first and last tracks, Road Shows Vol. 2 is a document of Rollin's legendary 80th birthday celebration performance. All of the musicians seem to grasp the momentousness of the occasion, and respond by filling the theater with great, boisterous waves of jazz. Rollins, of course, is the core; a beautiful horn player who remains in the very top echelons of the music, he's always worth hearing, especially in such distinguished company.

Track Listing: They Say It's Wonderful; In A Sentimental Mood; Sonnymoon For Two; I Can't Get Started; Rain Check; St. Thomas.

Personnel: Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone; Jim Hall: guitar: (2); Russell Malone: guitar: (1, 3-5); Kobie Watkins: drums: 1, 2, 4-6); Bob Cranshaw: bass (1, 2, 4-6); Sammy Figueroa: percussion: (1,2, 4-6); Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone (3); Christian McBride: bass (3); Roy Haynes: drums (3); Roy Hargrove: trumpet (4, 5).

Title: Road Shows, Vol. 2 | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Doxy Records


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