5 July 2006

Classic Sonny Rollins x 3

By Tapani Lausti

Great Sessions: Sonny Rollins. 3 CDs. Blue Note 1956-1957.

The first time I heard tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins was on a Miles Davis EP record which I had bought in my school years. The tracks are now available on the CD Miles Davis and Horns (Original Jazz Classics 1952-53). Rollins appears on five tracks. I found his playing intriguing and interesting although it did not immediately make a lasting impression. Later I came to admire his music very much indeed.

Finding this 3 CD set made me realise that something important was missing from my collection. Some of the tracks are familiar to me from some compilation albums but having found these three CDs really shows that repackaging old albums can be of service to a collector. There is always something important one has missed.

Blue Note/EMI has published a whole series of these 3 CD Great Sessions collections. Other collections I saw in the Málaga music shop had albums by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Kenny Burrell and Cannonball Adderley.

Here are some observations about this Sonny Rollins collection. The first one, Sonny Rollins, Volume One was recorded in December 1956, in other words only six months after the famous Saxophone Colossus (Prestige 1956). The sidemen in this later session were trumpetist Donald Byrd, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Gene Ramey and drummer Max Roach. In the new liner notes, Bob Blumenthal writes that the playing on this album is "superior". In the original liner notes Leonard Feather wrote that "[d]uring the last year Sonny has emerged fully as an individual." The quintet Feather describes as "superior and finely integrated".

The second CD in this set of three is Sonny Rollins, Volume Two which was recorded in April 1957. The lineup is exciting: Rollins is joined by J.J. Johnson on trombone, Paul Chambers on bass and Art Blakey on drums. There are two pianists alternating on the set: Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk. And on Monk's "Misterioso" they share the piano duties. Blumenthal's comment: "While the two tracks featuring Monk are the album's most famous performances, all of the music is outstanding."

Finally, the third CD: Newk's Time. It was recorded in September 1957. Wynton Kelly is on the piano again, the bassist is Doug Watkins and the drummer is Philly Joe Jones. On the original liner notes Joe Goldberg wrote: "... on this particular afternoon, [Rollins's] style was at a point where it was fresh and vital to him, and he had an intense desire to communicate it."

I have spent many hours listening to these three albums. I know there are people who do not like the way Rollins's music evolved in later years. Whatever your view, you will enjoy these CDs from the 50s. They are something to treasure.

Visit the Music section in the archive and see my list of favourite jazz CDs.


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