Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus (OJC, 1956)

Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins was beginning an awe inspiring burst of creativity when this album was recorded on June 22, 1956 in the company of Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass and Max Roach on drums. Developing some of the thematic material that he would continue to explore for the rest of his career, the album opens with the immortal “St. Thomas” one of the most immediately recognizable songs in jazz, with a calypso melody that imbeds itself in the ear and became one of Rollins’ trademark pieces. As beautiful as his saxophone playing is here, it is the drumming of Max Roach that really makes the performance, from his rolling introduction to the shifting and deeply rhythmic playing giving the music wide latitude. Ballads have always been a Rollins specialty and the performance of the standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is” becomes a rapturous reading supported by Flanagan’s beautifully melodic playing. “Moriat,” otherwise known as “Mack the Knife” is another wonderful performance with very witty and wry saxophone playing and a full team effort from the rhythm section. Finishing with “Blue 7,” a composition and improvisation that has received a lot of attention from musicologists like Gunter Schuler is a fine ending to what is essentially a flawless album. There is a palpable sense of joy running through the music, as if Rollins has realized that he completed a major breakthrough, and was beginning one of the most legendary runs in the music’s history. Saxophone Colossus -

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