Jazz CD Reviews
Sonny Rollins – The Impulse Story – Impulse! Records
Published on October 2, 2006
In 1964 Sonny Rollins’ recording contract with RCA was expiring. The tenor saxophone master wanted to sign on with a new label more strictly associated with jazz. So in 1965 he joined John Coltrane at Impulse. Mr. Rollins was then at the very top of his game. He’d fully established himself as arguably the most vital tenor man in jazz history. Besides the RCA material, he’d released magnificent sessions on Prestige, Blue Note, Verve, Riverside, Contemporary and other labels. The three studio albums on the Impulse label issued in 1965-66 were the accomplishments of a master still completely in his prime.
The three resulting discs “Sonny Rollins on Impulse!”, “Alfie” and “East Broadway Run Down” involved differing-sized groups, but are all indispensable. Rollins is joined by pianist Ray Bryant, bassist Walter Booker and drummer Mickey Roker for his label debut. This compilation does a great job of picking out “Three Little Words”, “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Hold ‘Em Joe” as three representative tracks. This new disc just explodes out of the gate with Sonny’s sublime solo on “Words” – it could be as good as any of the shorter ones he’s committed to wax.
“Alfie” was in the film score to the film that launched Michael Caine’s career. Rollins composed five pieces recorded in England with British musicians for the actual 1966 film release. Rollins later considered it to comprise an experimental learning experience after the theme song by Bacharach/David became the hit song. But Rollins returned to Van Gelder Studios where Oliver Nelson helped out with the arrangements and the material was re-recorded with the tenor man joined by a nine piece band of all stars. Again, Rollins stunned listeners with his work on “Alfie’s Theme”, while the other selections of “Street Runner With Child” and “On Impulse” are magnificently done as well.
The third Impulse release is a treat. It was generally a trio outing with Coltrane’s rhythm section. Bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones are amazingly supportive in letting Rollins stretch out – maybe no one has ever thrived as much with such solo space to explore (except Coltrane). The trio is represented by “We Kiss in a Shadow”, which is this new disc’s closing track. The next-to-last cut is a real bonus. A fourth band member is added for the 20-minute “East Broadway Run Down”. The glorious trumpeter Freddie Hubbard contributes his mighty horn for this extended period of rapture that goes mighty far in defining all that is great about post-bop jazz. It’s a complete group collaborative effort with each one getting his statement(s) like a true democracy.
So, anyone needing to fill a void in Impulse-era Sonny Rollins should snatch this one up – the cuts have been very well selected. If you already own them, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the car CD player or as a gift. The other group of music enthusiasts it should interest are those with high-resolution playback systems. This release has been very well remastered and is assuredly as fine sounding as any others out there. Nice stuff from a legend.
– Birney K. Brown