August 29, 2006


60 Years Later, Rollins Defies Expectations (WILL FRIEDWALD, August 29, 2006, NY Sun)

After nearly 60 years as a major player, Mr. Rollins has perfected a highly personal brand of jazz (with pop and heavy Afro-Caribbean elements), which begins with his band. Where the standard front line of a modern jazz group is trumpet and sax, Mr. Rollins's co-star is trombonist Clifton Anderson (also his nephew, and the producer of his new album). He also features electric guitar (Bobby Broom) rather than piano as his customary chordal instrument, electric bass (Bob Cranshaw) instead of acoustic (except for one tune), and a two-man percussion section consisting of the fine Victor Lewis on drums and Kimati Dinizulu sporting a battery of African instruments (including apentema, apente, sankofa, kyene, djembe, and conga). With the exception of Mr. Lewis, this is the same band that performs on Mr. Rollins's new album, "Sonny, Please," the first release on his own label, Doxy Records. [...]

The most substantial (and unexpected) new contribution to Mr. Rollins's repertoire, both at the show and on the new album, is "Serenade." Adapted from the 1900 ballet "Serenade Les Millions d'Arlequin" by the lesser-known Paduan composer Ricardo Drigo (born 1846), the piece was first heard as a pop song in England, played by British dance bands around the time of the composer's death in 1930. It's a beautiful tune and Mr. Rollins makes the most of it. Although there were solos by Messrs. Anderson and Broom, as well as an unnecessary percussion interlude, the charm here is in the pure, sonic pleasure of hearing Mr. Rollins's deep, rich tenor tone essay this lovely line. It's one of the most pleasing sounds in all of nature.

At this point, Mr. Rollins introduced "J.J." (as in Johnson), the latest in his series of short, poignant dedications to fallen comrades (such as "Wynton" for Wynton Kelly and "Remembering Tommy," for Tommy Flanagan, on the album). He played "Don't Stop the Carnival," but then, surprisingly, stopped the carnival well before the rabble-raising climax all were expecting.

What he did do, however, was launch into an unexpected encore: It began with "I See Your Face Before Me," and from there launched into a glorious, unaccompanied coda, in which he played long chunks of whatever tunes he felt like. It could have been called "Oh Look at Me Now Thinking About You and the Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeeze Singing Polly-Wolly-Doodle All the Day." Finally, the rhythm section rejoined him on Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful." If that is indeed what they say, and they are talking about Sonny Rollins, then they're right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2006 9:17 AM
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