The epithets for Sonny Rollins defy improvement, e.g. "saxophone colossus" and "the greatest living musical improviser." He is an icon of the tenor saxophone, having played with all of the "founding fathers" of be-bop: Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, and Miles Davis. He has been a major innovative force in jazz, credited with introducing the pianoless trio (tenor, bass, and drums), freeform jazz cadenzas, and the quartet with a guitar instead of piano as the chorded instrument. He’s won two Grammy Awards, late in his prolific career (2001 and 2006).
Milestone Profiles: Sonny Rollins is a celebration of Rollins’ 35-year anniversary as a Milestone recording artist. Even though he’s released almost 25 records with Milestone, his recordings from the ‘50s and ‘60s on other labels such as Blue Note, Prestige, and RCA sometimes overshadow the "middle years" of Rollins’ recorded history. This record is meant to show Rollins in all his post-youth jazz splendor.
The tracks on this disc run from a 1972 recording of "Skylark" to his 2006 Grammy-winning solo performance on "Why Was I Born?", recorded in Boston just days after the infamous September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. Because it is a collection, the pieces need to be savored individually, not seen as a cohesive whole. There is much to savor.
The disc opens with "Autumn Nocturne" recorded live in San Francisco in 1978; instantly you know its Rollins as he tears off one of his signature cadenzas with startling bravado, taking over four minutes of the six and a-half covered by the entire tune. There are a couple of calypso-inspired tunes, "Duke of Iron" and "Global Warming" (both Rollins’ originals) that reflect the upbeat party songs of his West Indian heritage. For the listener who has Rollins’ hard bop youth fixed in his mind, these might seem fluffy; but let Sonny tell his side of the story before you judge too quickly. Keep this in mind too for "Tennessee Waltz," an unlikely song for a "saxophone colossus;" but then Rollins has done this before with pop tunes of their time, and he knows what he’s doing. Maybe you’ll smile like I did when I heard guitarist Jerome Harris ripping off the steel guitar sound, lest we forget this is a "country" song.
There are also standards like "Where or When," "Skylark," and "The Moon of Manakoora" (obscure, to be sure, but worthy of Rollins’ treatment). The "Skylark" cadenza is another tour-de-force; sit back and marvel at this man’s inventiveness.
If your knowledge of Sonny Rollins is stuck in the bop era, Milestone Profiles: Sonny Rollins is a fine way to bring yourself up to date.
P.S. This CD also comes with a Milestone Profiles bonus disc with an assortment of other gems from the likes of Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Smith, Jim Hall & Ron Carter, and others.