Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Sonny Rollins Quartet With Don Cherry - Complete Live at the Village Gate 1962 (Solar Records, 2015)

After a period of transition when Sonny Rollins left the jazz scene to re-examine his life and music, famously practicing under the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn so he wouldn't disturb a pregnant neighbor, he reentered the music world in the early 1960's with a fresh conception and a desire for new challenges. To that end, he cut a widely praised album with guitarist Jim Hall appropriately titled The Bridge, and a fascinating album with his childhood idol Coleman Hawkins. Rollins had been listening hard to Ornette Coleman's revolutionary and controversial free or harmolodic jazz. Intrigued by that music, end he borrowed a few musicians associated with Coleman, drummer Billy Higgins and trumpeter Don Cherry to join him and his longtime bassist Bob Cranshaw on a fascinating journey that had the melodic sensibility of Rollins and Cranshaw clashing and melding with the wide open style of Higgins and Cherry. There was an LP of this music officially released at the time by RCA called Our Man In Jazz, and the twenty minute version of Rollins' composition "Oleo" hinted at what was really going down at the Village Gate in 1962. This boxed set expands the music to six compact discs, four of which run over seventy minutes. It's a massive slab of music and shows "Sonny Rollins and Company" (that's how they are billed by the announcer) taking the music into fully exploratory mode, and lengthy improvisations lasted anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes long. The band is on the cutting edge of jazz for that time, playing Rollins’ standards like "St. Thomas," "Doxy" and "Oleo" and some standards such as "Three Little Words" and "Dearly Beloved." But there are several performances that the compilers are unable to identity, leading me to wonder if these weren't free experiments a la Coleman. The music is raw and fascinating all the way through. It's not just the Sonny Rollins show, as some of his later concerts would become. Cherry gets plenty of solo space and really challenges Rollins to get out of his comfort zone with excellent results. Cranshaw is a rock and an excellent fulcrum for the band to depend on, and Higgins is just a blast, changing beats, shifting, moving things all around all with a sense of joy at the opportunities the music offers. This set is exhausting, but very highly recommended. The music is extraordinary, the sound quality is raw but very solid and there is an excellent book of liner notes and photographs included. There is one caveat to think about: just like the John Coltrane set So Many Things, this is another "grey market" release from Europe where copyright laws are different than the United States. Sonny Rollins won't see a dime from the sales of this amazing music – which begs the question - if Solar Records can get a hold of this music, why can't RCA, presumably the legitimate copyright holder, go to town with their own legitimate boxed set? Complete Live at the Village Gate 1962 -

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