Jazz CD Reviews

Sonny Rollins – Road Shows Vol. 2 – Doxy/Emarcy Records

Saxophone colossus manages to thrill audiences…at eighty.

Published on September 8, 2011

Sonny Rollins – Road Shows Vol. 2 – Doxy/Emarcy Records

Sonny Rollins – Road Shows Vol. 2 – Doxy/Emarcy Records B0015949-02, 66:16 ****:

(Sonny Rollins – tenor saxophone; Ornette Coleman – alto saxophone; Roy Hargrove – trumpet; Jim Hall – guitar; Russell Malone – guitar; Christian McBride – acoustic bass; Bob Cranshaw – electric bass; Roy Haynes – drums; Kobie Watkins – drums; Sammy Figueroa – percussion)

The story is well known: A young man takes up the tenor saxophone to become the next Coleman Hawkins. However Sonny Rollins would become one of the most emulated tenor players in the jazz world. His career began with modernists Bud Powell, Fats Navarro and Roy Haynes. Soon after, he was performing and recording as a leader. During the 1950s he developed his trademark piano-less trio sound. Albums like A Night At The Village Vanguard, Way Out West and Freedom Suite defined his status as a hard bop master. Noted for his intense practice regimens and lengthy hiatuses, he achieved a charismatic renown. An early 60s return resulted in the critically acclaimed album, The Bridge and began a relationship with Jim Hall and Bob Cranshaw.  The decade would also see a first Grammy nomination (for the film score Alfie). The pattern continued, marked by projects that included Stanley Clark, George Duke, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, McCoy Tyner and countless others.

More impressive is the vigor that has sustained itself for more than six decades. In the new millennium he has garnered two performance Grammys (This Is What I Do, Without a Song-The 9/11 Concert) and a third for jazz instrumental solo (“Why Was I Born”). As he approaches an age when most people have been retired for quite some time, he is indomitable. While his studio output has diminished, Rollins continues to perform. His connection to the spirit and relevance of jazz is powerful and is reflected in the technique and energy of his live sets.

Road Shows Vol. 2 is a live set of material from Japan and the 80th Birthday Concert at New York’s Beacon Theatre. Unlike the prior volume that covered nearly thirty years of live material, these cuts were recorded in 2010. The opening piece, a swinging rendition of “They Say It’s Wonderful” is one of the two Japan performances. After a twisting solo intro on tenor, Russell Malone brings some heat with his guitar runs comprised of rhythm chords and notation. Rollins is unusually generous with his band mates. Kobie Watkins shines on the drum fills and solo. Never aloof, the saxophonist takes care to introduce the musicians On the first of four Sonny Rollins @ 80 numbers, Jim Hall delivers a lyrical expressive cover of Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” backed solely by Watkins and Bob Cranshaw (bass).

The festive excitement of the night intensifies as Rollins introduces guest stars Christian McBride and Roy Haynes (drums) at the start of the bluesy improvisation “Sonnymoon For Two”. Another complicated but fluent sax run is framed neatly by McBride’s walking bass line and Haynes’ distinctive tempo. During the song, Rollins remarks that a mystery horn player has dropped in to offer birthday greetings. To the delight of the audience, Ornette Coleman comes onstage injecting his customary abstract, high-register bleats and trills. Then the two octogenarians are trading solos in what turned out to be their first ever collaboration. Another highlight is the addition of Roy Hargrove’s trumpet on “I Can’t Get Started”.  This late night change of pace offers Hargrove and Rollins opportunity to stretch out on melodic exploration with fluency and nuance. The duo swing on “Rain Check” with several raucous exchanges.

Road Shows Vol. 2
captures an iconic jazz artist well beyond what would be considered his prime. Yet Rollins is still a vital force—amiable and passionate. The sound quality of the CD is clear and maintains   balance and separation. It is fortunate to enjoy a jazz legend that has persevered. (Note: It has been announced that Sonny Rollins was selected as a Kennedy Center Honoree for 2011.)

TrackList: They Say It’s Wonderful; In A Sentimental Mood; I Can’t Get Started; Rain Check; St. Thomas

— Robbie Gerson




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