The great saxophonist Sonny Rollins only spent a few years on the RCA label, but they were very interesting and productive ones. After a hyper-productive spasm of creating some of the finest music in the music's history during the 1950's, Rollins took a sabbatical that lasted a few years, re-evaluating his sound in the wake of the seismic changes that were happening on the jazz scene. Rollins famously practiced late at night under the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, and that led to his resulting "comeback album" The Bridge, which is well represented on the first disc of this collection. Disc one leads off with the urgent title track, and the beautiful ballad version of "God Bless the Child" with Rollins intimately and patiently caressing the melody, aided by Jim Hall's light and buoyant guitar tone. Employing extra percussion and vocals, the calypso "Don't Stop the Carnival" is a riot of energy and experimentation, melding the island music with improvisational jazz. Coming to terms with the nascent free jazz movement leads to some fascinating music on this collection as well. Partnering with Don Cherry, the live version of "Doxy" stretches out at length, with Rollins and Cherry probing the new found freedom to great effect. Although he opted not to follow that road, Rollins had a lot of respect for the free jazz practitioners, and would become a mentor to one of the best modern free jazz musicians, David S. Ware. One of his own heroes, the legendary saxophonist Coleman Hawkins joined Rollins for one of the most fascinating albums of his RCA tenure and that album, Sonny Meets Hawk, is represented by their exciting version of "Lover Man" where they trade fascinating solos of an increasingly intense and abstract nature. Disc Two is rounded out by some very enjoyable bebop, ballads and standards, and re-makes of Rollins originals from earlier years, material that Rollins would continue to re-invent with endless facility over the course of his lengthy career. This is a well done and consistently interesting collection, that shows how willing Sonny Rollins was to try different settings and musical challenges. These experiments helped him further refine his sound and went a long way toward making the legendary musician we revere today. The Essential Sonny Rollins: The RCA Years - amazon.com
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