Sonny_Rollins - Holding The Stage road shows Vol.4
Sonny Rollins - Road Shows, Vol. 4 Veröffentlichung: 8. April 2016
OKeh /Sony Music Nr.: 88875192752
Tenor sax titan Sonny Rollins is an unsurpassed master of time who can subdivide a beat into almost subatomic intervals while maintaining hurtling momentum. His latest foray into his vast archives, Holding the Stage: Road Shows, vol. 4, captures a different facet of the saxophonist’s temporal command. Despite encompassing some 33 years, with performances cherry picked from 1979 to 2012, the album coheres with all of the compelling logic and narrative force of an extended Sonny solo. The album is truly a treasure chest that includes tunes Rollins has never before recorded and musical relationships previously undocumented.
Rollins says that he didn’t set out to create an album that flows like a concert, complete with obscure ballad and calypsonian closer. “It just turned out that way,” he says, noting that engineer and co-producer Richard Corsello deserves credit for matching the sound quality of tracks drawn from different venues and eras. “We go back and forth how to sequence it and the final decision is mine. You know my reputation as being very self-critical, so the hardest part is listening to all of this stuff. This album consists of various periods of my career, with something for everybody. It’s who I am, and the music represents just about every aspect of what I do.”
The album opens Duke Ellington’s immortal “In a Sentimental Mood,” a soaring rendition that centers on Rollins’s magisterial unaccompanied statement of the melody. In the first of several tunes that offer a hat tip to a valued colleague, he delivers the premiere of a recent (circa 2011) composition “Professor Paul.” A funky tribute to saxophonist/arranger Paul Jeffrey (who died last year at the age of 81), the performance includes some pleasingly tart guitar work by Peter Bernstein.
Rollins didn’t compose the tune to evoke a particular aspect of Jeffrey’s musical personality. Rather, after writing the sinewy groove he decided to dedicate the piece to “a good friend who also a confidant to Charlie Mingus and Monk, somebody in the intelligentsia who was engaged in the inner workings of some of the minds who created this music of ours,” Rollins says. “I’ve known Paul since the 1950s. He helped me in my quest in many ways, and I figured it would be good to recognize him.”
He doesn’t reserve his tributes to players who flew under the radar. A sleek and soulful blues, “H.S.” summons the spirit of Horace Silver, with whom Rollins played in the band of Miles Davis in the early 1950s. Introduced on his 1995 Milestone album Sonny Rollins + 3 (and occasionally used as interstitial music on the public radio show Fresh Air), the tune “has sort of an elemental tone and I thought a little bit of Horace’s music. We both broke through in the 1950s and I always liked Horace. As I look back, I’ve done a lot of homages to different musicians I’ve worked with. I like to celebrate some of these people.”
Like several tunes on Holding the Stage “H.S.” remained in Rollins’s repertoire for many years through various personnel changes. One of the album’s most exquisite numbers is an obscure ballad that Rollins has never performed in public. Written by little-known composer Stuart Louchheim, “Mixed Emotions” was a minor hit for Rosemary Clooney in 1951, though Rollins came to the song via Dinah Washington’s version. His duo rendition with veteran New York guitarist Saul Rubin is a brief snippet captured in Prague.
“Saul is a very fine musician and if we were still working together I’m sure I would do the whole song,” Rollins says. “I always loved the song and I put that in the repertoire but we never ended up performing it.”
The album’s oldest track is another revelation. Rollins wrote “Disco Monk” during the height of the dance music’s popularity in 1979. A couple of months after he recorded it on the album Don’t Ask, he toured with a stripped-down version of the same ensemble. The title might seem dated, but with its compelling melody the tune is far more Thelonious Sphere Monk than Saturday Night Fever. Rather than trying to ride the disco bandwagon, Rollins conceived the tune “as an antidote to all of the disco that was so omnipresent then. We only played that for a while. Some material I played depended upon the musicians who were working with me. I don’t think I ever played ‘Disco Monk’ with another group.”
From the serpentine fun of “Disco Monk,” the album takes a solemn turn with the gorgeous Johnny Green/Edgar Heyman ballad “You’re Mine You,” which features a particularly brilliant solo by pianist Stephen Scott. Written by the same composer/lyricist team responsible for “Body and Soul,” the song is drawn from the storied Berklee Performance Center concert Rollins gave in the bleak, disorienting days following the 9/11 attacks. Though he’s never recorded it before, “it’s one of those songs that sticks in my mind. That’s how it is with music. It gets in your mind like an infection and I can’t get rid of it. I played it with some other lineups, but it didn’t stay around forever.”
The album closes with a searing medley from the Berklee concert of September 15, 2001. Rollins released most of the evening on his last Milestone album, the Grammy Award-winning Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert, but space limitations prevented him from including the entire performance. The old Bing Crosby vehicle “Sweet Leilani,” which Rollins recorded the year before on This Is What I Do, sheds its lush Hawaiian air as he tears through the melody in surging 6/8 time. With its dizzying succession of quotes his unaccompanied solo rewards repeated listening, while the concluding “Don’t Stop the Carnival” has never sounded quite so dangerously ecstatic.
From beginning to end, Holding the Stage makes another incontrovertible case for the value of an artist seizing control of his own output. It’s been a decade now since Rollins launched Doxy, and the label has provided the jazz world with a sure and steady flow of Rollins at his best, which is to say music at its most profound and powerful. Doxy’s first CD release, the 2006 studio recording Sonny, Please, earned a Grammy nomination. In 2008, Doxy issued In Vienne, a DVD of a dazzling 2006 European festival performance, and Road Shows, vol. 1, the first omnibus of live tracks culled from an international archive compiled by Carl Smith and Rollins’s own personal soundboard tapes dating back to 1980.
With its glittering cast of guests, including Ornette Coleman, Jim Hall, Roy Hargrove, and Roy Haynes, Road Shows, vol. 2 documented Rollins’s bracing 80th-birthday celebration at the Beacon Theater in 2010. And 2014’s Road Shows, vol. 3 hinged on an epic 23-minute excavation of Jerome Kern’s “Why Was I Born?” a stunning performance that answered the titular question in no uncertain terms. Sonny Rollins has made musical exploration his life’s work.