For some time now I’ve felt that I should have a better appreciation of Sonny Rollins and his music than I do. I used to play tenor saxophone (very badly, I hasten to add) and Saxophone Colossus was amongst the first CDs that I purchased when I bought an early CD player. I listened to it avidly, alongside a couple of his Blue Note recordings which I borrowed from the local library and copied onto cassette tape.
Aside from that, it has only been in the last couple of years that I bought and listened to Way Out West and The Bridge- and I have yet to hear Freedom Suite (I’m putting that right next week).
Sadly, I’ve never yet seen Sonny Rollins perform live, although I had tickets for the Royal Albert Hall concert last year that he was forced to withdraw from due to ill health.
Over the last six months I’ve been listening to Sonny Rollins On Impulse. When I initially came across it in a Manchester record shop, I thought it was a compilation and wasn’t that interested. However, it was in near mint condition and that made me take a closer look.
When he recorded it in 1965, Sonny Rollins was at the end of a recording contract with RCA which had yielded six albums. He followed John Coltrane to Impulse, hoping to benefit from the sort of creative ethos that had worked so well for the other great saxophonist. His association with Impulse was to last for three albums and as Ashley Kahn reveals in The House That Trane Built, it was not recalled by Sonny Rollins as the great experience he had hoped for as he felt that he had been ripped off and exploited by people associated with the label.
What of his first LP with them then? On Impulse is a set of five standard tunes, opening with On Green Dolphin Street. Rollins treats this track in a strange way. The head is impressionistic and offers a only passing reference to the tune. Later he is content to inhabit the margins of the performance in a manner which seems to mimic the irritating buzzing of an insect. Not my favourite version of this fine tune!
Everything Happens To Me is rather more conventional and mainstream. Initially, Sonny’s playing doesn’t exactly set fire to the immediate environment and it is quite restrained but there is some very fine supporting work from piano, bass and drums (with a wonderful contribution from the double bass). However, his concluding solo is an absolute masterclass in the art of playing a ballad on tenor.
Hold ‘Em Joe is the first track on the second side of the vinyl version of this set. It is a calypso, which is full of joy and life and which makes me smile every time I hear it. You can hear and form a view of it too courtesy of khimerak on Youtube:-
To play, touch or click on the arrow
Blue Room is a lush Rodgers and Hart ballad that is sophisticated without losing a light and uplifting quality and featuring silky piano.
Three Little Words is the closest this album gets to straight ahead hard bop. It remains lyrical and Sonny’s saxophone is notably fluent, ending an excellent album on a high note.
It has taken me a while to get round to Sonny Rollins here at downwithit but I’m delighted to have done so via one of his less well known albums, which, nonetheless is well worthy of your attention.
The band etc: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Ray Bryant (piano); Mickeys Roker (drums); Walter Booker (bass). Produced: Bob Thiele. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs. 8 July 1965. Cover Design: Joe Lebow. Cover Photography: Charles Stewart. Released: 1968. Original release: AS-91.