Despite his popularity as a performer, an unsatisfied Sonny Rollins took a three year hiatus from performing and recording to hone his technique. The image of him practicing on the Williamsburg Bridge during this period is one of jazz's enduring reference points. Once he returned in 1962, Rollins signed with RCA and released a series of albums that document uneven years of growth where he experimented with lineups and adopted the techniques of Ornette Coleman to his own style.
The recording of "All The Things You Are" with Coleman Hawkins points to the trouble with Rollins during this time; Hawk solos beautifully, but is crowded out by Rollins' obtrusive noodling. What we really want to hear is Rollins sounding more like Hawk, not deliberately trying to overwhelm him in abstraction. Rollins also picked up guitarist Jim Hall instead of a pianist, but Hall is simply too delicate to deal with the bullish tenor, and Rollins comes off sounding undermanned. The set also features a few tunes recorded with Don Cherry, again with no piano, in a very Coleman-like setting which will make most people reach for The Shape Of Jazz to Come insteadand some mediocre dabblings with a choir.
Despite the growing pains of these recordings, there are a few highlights; a trio recording of "St. Thomas" and a lovely version of "God Bless The Child" with Hall hearken back to the classic Prestige years and are perfect examples of why Rollins is hailed as one of the greatest improvisers in jazz. Rollins eventually found a happy medium between his avant-garde leanings and his post- bop past, but much of Rollins' RCA material is inferior to his substantial body of work. Pick up any of the Prestige records instead.
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