Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sonny Rollins - The Freelance Years, Disc One (Riverside, 2000)

The Freelance Years tracks tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins' music for Riverside and related labels in the late 1950's. The first disc features a dazzling combination of classics, selections from Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners and Rollins' own Way Out West. The Monk date is notorious as one of his most complex, and the music bares that out, but the inherent melodies and playfulness of the music and the extraordinary performances of of the musicians make the music very enjoyable. Rollins eats up the knotty material and solos beautifully on "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are" and "Pannonica." Although there is no pianist at all on the Way Out West, Monk's impish and risk-taking spirit seems to have affected Sonny Rollins and allowed him to turn what could have been a shallow gimmick (the wild west theme) into one of his finest studio albums. Joined by bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, Rollins revels in the freedom allowed by the trio format (one that he would investigate on several wonderful records in this period) and plays tune that fit the theme and allow him for unusual vehicles for improvisation. "Wagon Wheels" and "I'm An Old Cowhand" were well known by western movie buff Rollins, but only he would have the chutzpah to improvise on them as jazz performances. Sonny deconstructs these and teases them, but he does it with love and respect, like he plays all of his music.

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