The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins by Sonny Rollins

July 12, 2012

Sonny Rollins is one of the last men standing from jazz music’s classic period. During his career he played with dozens of legendary artists including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker. At the age of 81 he continues to travel the globe regularly.

His long career has led him to take two long sabbaticals from the music industry. Each time he returned, his sound was vastly different as he modernized and blended it with the trends of the day such as R&B and funk rhythms. While he would lose old fans and gain new ones along the way, his journey has been one of the more interesting in American music history.

The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins concentrates on what can be considered his traditional or classic period, 1953-58. Culled from his time with the Riverside, Prestige, and Contemporary labels, they represent the brilliance of his early period in which he established his reputation and began to build a catalogue of music that would influence future generations of jazz artists.

The album begins with the self-penned Rollins classic, “St. Thomas.” Backed by pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Doug Watkins, and drummer Max Roach, the nearly seven minute song was the perfect vehicle for his tenor saxophone to explore his West Indian heritage within a traditional jazz setting. His solo, which was inspired by two notes, has rung down through jazz history.

“Tenor Madness” at over 12 minutes, united two of the greatest saxophonists in jazz history as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins inspired and pushed each other.

Some of his material from his experimentations with a pianoless group is included. The most successful was “Someday I’ll Find You” with bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Max Roach. This unusual configuration forced Rollins to fill in the gaps as well as provide the solos. He issued an album titled Way Our West and an old Johnny Mercer tune, “I’m An Old Cowhand,” from that release is included. Again it was just bass, drums and Rollins, as he showed his ability at twisting a recognizable standard out of shape, while remaining true to the original intent.

The 1950s were the most successful period of his career. The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins gives a taste of that era. Once you visit these songs, you may be inspired to seek out the full studio albums.

Article first published as Music Review: Sonny Rollins – The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins on Blogcritics.


Dig by Miles Davis featuring Sonny Rollins

November 19, 2010

There has been over 200 studio, live, and compilation albums by Miles Davis, 1926-1991, and that is a lot of music.

The Concord Music Group has been reissuing classic jazz releases through their Original Jazz Classics Remasters series. Miles Davis’ fourth studio release, Dig, has been selected as one of the newest entries in the series.

Dig was first released during 1951 as a ten inch vinyl LP, as mainly classical records were issued in the twelve inch format. The original release contained five tracks but when it was first reissued as a twelve inch LP, two more were added to fill out the album. While this new CD release lists two bonus tracks, they were part of the early reissue.

This was a transition album for Davis. Even at this early point in his career he had already exerted a large influence by being one of the first proponents of the cool jazz school. He began to move away from that sound that was intricate and composed yet left some room for improvisation. He was now moving toward a fifties Be-Bop style.

He surrounded himself with some of the finest musicians in jazz history. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins, alto sax player Jackie McLean, pianist Walter Bishop, bassist Tommy Potter, and drummer Art Blakely all supported the legendary jazz trumpeter.

The real bonus is the enclosed essay by Ira Gitler who wrote the original liner notes for the 1951 release which are also included.

The title track was one of the Davis’ major compositions and performances of his early career. It introduced a new style of jazz music and included solos by Rollins, McLean, and two by Davis. “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” was written by Howard Arlen of “Over The Rainbow” fame. The Nat King Cole Trio recorded the song during the forties and here it completes the movement from The Great American Songbook to classic jazz as Davis’ improvisational lines combine with Rollins melodies.

“Denial” is probably the weakest song if there was one. The solos are excellent in their own right but do not flow into each other. “Bluing” has the first solos by pianist Bishop plus at almost ten minutes has plenty of room for Rollins and Davis as well. “Out Of The Blue” closed the original album with Davis introducing the theme for the others to follow before bringing it to a conclusion.

The final two tracks fit the album well. “My Old Flame” is another old standard by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston that Charlie Parker recorded during 1947. Davis uses his interpretation as a launch point and adds some creative improvisations along the way. “Conception” was a George Shearing composition that Davis added a number of interludes at various points.

Many times Dig is forgotten in the vast Miles Davis catalogue. It was an important album both for Davis and for jazz as well as it opened up new possibilities that would be explored by the generation of artists that would follow.

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The Definitive Sonny Rollins by Sonny Rollins

September 13, 2010

The Concord Music Group has assembled a new music series in which classic material from the ’50s by such jazz giants as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins are being resurrected and issued as two-CD sets. These best-of or definitive compilations are wonderful introductions to not only these legendary artists but to an era of American jazz as well.

Sonny Rollins, who will turn 80 on September 7, first entered a recording studio in 1949 and continues to record and play live today. He is one of the most influential tenor saxophonists and jazz musicians of his generation and now, over sixty years into his career, has outlived most of his contemporaries. He has played with a who’s who of jazz musicians including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and The Modern Jazz Quartet.

The Definitive Sonny Rollins gathers material beginning in 1951 with his work for the Modern Jazz Quartet, continues with tracks from his Prestige recordings, and concludes with some releases from the Riverside label and finally the Contemporary label during 1958. The enclosed booklet is excellent with a nice personal biography plus a history of each recording.

The most interesting track is the nineteen-minute “The Freedom Suite.” It was recorded during early 1958 at a time when Rollins had stopped using a piano as a part of his group. He recorded with only a bass and drum and when his sax was not the lead he would use it as the rhythm instrument during the drum solos. This long track in particular presents Rollins at his improvisational best and his interplay with drummer Max Roach is exceptional.

Rollins was always a genius at taking decidedly non-jazz material and adapting it to his unique style. Johnny Mercer’s “I’m An Old Cowhand” and the Lerner-Lowe tune, “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” are both excellent examples of this approach.

There are a number of other notable tracks. “St. Thomas” is a calypso-based tune and remains his most famous song. “Mambo Bounce”and “In A Sentimental Mood” are the oldest tracks. These early fifties recordings with The Modern Jazz Quartet present his still developing style.

The Definitive Sonny Rollins is a nice look into the early career of a jazz legend. It is nice to have so many classic treats in one place.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org