‘1959. We meet Rollins at the end of an extraordinary period of his life.’

Resonance Records 3 CDs/4 LPs

Sonny Rollins – tenor saxophone Henry Grimes – bass Pete La Roca, Joe Harris, Kenny Clarke – drums

  1. St. Thomas / 2. There Will Never Be Another You / 3. Stay As Sweet As You Are / 4. I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star / 5. How High The Moon / 6. Oleo / 7. Paul’s Pal / 8. Sonny Rollins / Interview / 9. It Don’t Mean a Thing / 10. Paul’s Pal #2 / 11. Love Letters / 12. I Remember You / 13. I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star #2 / 14. It Could Happen to You /15. Oleo #2 / 16. Will You Still Be Mine / 17. I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star #3 / 18. I Want to Be Happy / 19. A Weaver of Dreams / 20. It Don’t Mean a Thing #2 / 21. Cocktails for Two / 22. I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star #4 / 23. I Want to Be Happy #2 / 24. Woody ‘N’ You / 25. But Not For Me / 26. Lady Bird
  2. We meet Rollins at the end of an extraordinary period of his life. During the fifties he had created a wonderful series of albums and established himself as the pre-eminent tenor player. It was a pinnacle. The journey to Europe was a culmination.

This is not the first release of this material. Zev Feldman, the jazz detective, did not have to search very deeply for this album: it has been bootlegged many times. At least now, some kind of justice will be done and some recompense given to

Rollins. It’s also good that Rollins has given his approval for the music. Rollins has always guarded his legacy; he was not keen to approve the complete Village Gate recordings with Don Cherry. Recordings made at Ronnie Scott’s in 1965 of the gloriously free uninhibited music Rollins played were not approved.

One of the great pleasures in jazz is listening to Sonny Rollins playing with just bass and drums. Rollins was one of the first to play as a trio without the chordal reassurance of a piano. The buccaneering freedom of Rollins’ playing is evident in the wonderful ‘Way

Out West’ album: a fiesta of strange tunes, with beautiful recordings of Ray Brown and Shelly Manne. Rollins’ sheer leathery capacious sound has never been better captured. The majesty of his conception is evident on the Village Gate recordings with Wilbur Ware and Elvin Jones.

One of the big questions of this album is why the session in Aix-en-Provence is so different from the earlier work in Sweden. The drummer in Sweden, Pete La Roca, had worked with Rollins before but there was some reason that Rollins was unhappy with him. Joe Harris was a temporary solution and he is low key. Kenny Clarke joined for the Aix-en-Provence date. He came to Rollins with a considerable reputation as one of the key early bop drummers and he makes Rollins work harder as he drives the rhythm. The tracks in Aix are much longer than the early pieces in Sweden and are more uninhibited. Throughout all the tracks Henry Grimes is magnificent: he anticipates the quirky changes from Rollins and gives the tenor melodic and sensitive support.

Kenny Clarke fires up the group on ‘Woody’N You’. This track runs for over fifteen minutes and it contains Rollins at his most passionate and driven. He is reaching out; his explorations are challenging as you follow the twists of his musical logic. Clarke fuels the duels with Rollins.

The other question around this music is what Rollins found so unsatisfactory about his own work. The intensely self-critical Rollins did not record again until 1962 when he recorded ‘The Bridge’ with Jim Hall. There are hints in his notebooks. But in 1959 Rollins was a player who had inspired critic Gunther Schuller in a lengthy essay describing the Rollins track ‘Blue Seven’ as a masterpiece of Invention and structure. Few solos had been subjected to such forensic analysis. Did Rollins feel in 1959 the weight of these judgments? Did it inhibit his creativity?

With Rollins there is always an honesty and an earnestness tinged with a wit and a questing spirit. The choice of material has always been important to Rollins. He picks tunes from the great shows of the past that will be known to his audiences.

That is brave because everyone who knows the pieces can listen and decide how original and inventive the improvisation is. on ’Stay As Sweet As You Are’ Rollins is reflective and almost romantic.as he weaves his way through the tune embellishing and energising the melody., ‘I’ve Told Every Little Star’ is played four times with Rollins’ quirky additions before he launches into a superb solo. Who else would have chosen that Jerome Kern song? Rollins own compositions: ‘St Thomas’ ‘Oleo’ and the delightful ‘Paul’s Pal’ are featured.

In the playing throughout the three CD album there is no hint of the crisis that would cause Rollins to reassess. With ‘St Thomas’, apparently the first live recording of this famous tune, at times he duets with La Roca as he goes into his stream of consciousness improvising, always keeping to the architecture of the tune. He also pulls in fragments of tunes from shows or classical licks. The playing is assertive, melodic, inventive. The parade of ideas spinning out of the theme gives the impression of inexhaustible creativity.

Rollins is now a spectator, occasionally commenting wisely on the current scene. Here, we are left with the recordings and the sound. Writer Ken Hyder. wrote ‘The tone—as big, wide and fiery as a blast furnace; the dramatic cliff-hanging sense of timing; and the almost sardonic—but never sentimental—treatment of ballads, which would surely be doomed to corny failure under others.

Rollins is still a major figure and this is a major album.

The Resonance album has rich additions including a booklet with photos by Ed van der Elsken, Jean-Pierre Leloir, Bob Parent and many others; notes by Bob Blumenthal, and new interviews with Rollins himself, Branford Marsalis, James Carter, Joe Lovano, James Brandon Lewis and Peter Brötzmann.