Legendary tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins has proven himself to be one of the most durable, consistently strong musicians of any era and genre. He started playing tenor saxophone in the 1940s, came into his own as a recognized player in the 1950s, and, except for short interruptions has been working and recording ever since. The reason he has been so steadily successful and productive is that he has unswervingly pursued his own exciting and highly inventive style that incorporates the bebop and hard bop idioms in a timeless way. His live performances and recordings therefore have remained fresh and vital across six decades. He keeps it that way by maintaining his physical and spiritual well-being and preserving his embouchure and lungs so well that he still sounds youthful at the age of 83. His other "secret" is that he is able to select, nurture, and discipline his ensembles so that they perfectly complement his playing.
This album, like the previous two "Road Show" volumes, consists of live concert recordings, in this case selected from performances given between 2001 and 2012 in Saitama, Japan; Toulouse, Marseille, and Marciac, France; and St. Louis, MO. It consists of two Rollins originals that have become standards: "Biji," and "Don't Stop the Carnival;" a new composition: the mantra-like "Patanjali" (Rollins has practiced yoga for many years; Patanjali was an ancient yoga master); an untitled solo quoting many familiar tunes; and two standards: "Someday I'll Find You" and "Why Was I Born." He is surrounded by outstanding musicians, of whom trombonist Clifton Anderson and bassist Bob Cranshaw are Rollins "regulars," and the others have joined him on multiple occasions. Especially for live performances in large venues, the recording quality is excellent: crisp, clear, and balanced. The result is a carefully selected collection of "one take" tracks that are as good as or better than a well-crafted studio session. Everything comes together beautifully to make for a tight, unwaveringly interesting listening experience.
The track "Someday I'll Find You" is notable for Rollins' exemplary interpretation of Noel Coward's standard from the 1930 play, "Private Lives." It is classic Rollins in the way he sustains interest over recurring choruses. In a subtle way, he captures some of the stylings of Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Ben Webster as he explores a variety of intervals and motifs as only a jazz master can do. What is even more striking is the coherence of Rollins' improvisation from beginning to end. He weaves a complex fabric that is all of one piece and even captures some of Cowards' own sense of irony.
"Solo Sonny" is a long, rolling cadenza of the kind that Rollins often inserts into his performances, perhaps as a way of giving his sidemen a recess. It consists of a gallimaufry (stew) of brief quotes from many standards woven together in a way that has just enough consistency that it sticks together. Rollins keeps your attention as you try to identify the tunes that appear in rapid sequence, not unlike the TV quiz show, "Jeopardy." This is sheer fun, while the other tracks have musical interest and value.
The backup groups, with some variations in personnel, support Rollins well. Mainstays, trombonist Clifton Anderson and bassist Bob Cranshaw are unobtrusive and provide a perfect foil for Rollins. Guitarist Bobby Broom takes a laidback blues-oriented solo in "Someday I'll Find You," and Peter Bernstein interpolates his distinctively modern guitar turns in "Patanjali." The various iconic drummers and percussionists display controlled energy and momentum throughout.
This album shows without question that, if a jazz musician keeps working at what he's good at, and has the support of outstanding and well-coordinated sidemen, the possibilities of personal expression are unending. Not at all a nostalgic look back, the music in this album is fresh and new.
Biji; Someday I'll Find You; Patanjali; Solo Sonny; Why Was I Born?; Don't Stop The
Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone; Clifton Anderson: trombone; Bob Cranshaw: bass;
Stephen Scott: piano (1); Perry Wilson: drums (1); Kimati Dinizulu: percussion (1, 2, 5);
Bobby Broom: guitar (2, 4, 5); Victor Lewis: drums (2); Peter Bernstein: piano (3, 6);
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