Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sonny Rollins - What's New (RCA, 1962)

This album was recorded in the spring of 1962 in New York City for RCA Records, when the record company was trying to cash in on the burgeoning bossa-nova craze of the period. They tried a nifty bit of subterfuge by subtitling the album Sonny Rollins Brings to Jazz a New Rhythm From South America. Actually most of the rhythms were brought from the Caribbean but regardless of their provenance the music is excellent and Rollins is in supurb command of his formidable talents. Joining him on this LP are Jim Hall on guitar, Bob Cransaw on bass, Ben Riley on drums and several extra percussionists. Despite the setting in which he finds himself (and he experimented with several different configurations during his RCA tenure) Rollins sounds as powerful and vigorous as ever. He opens with two lengthy performances “If Ever I Would Leave You” and “Jungoso” both of which work with strong tempo and rhythm. Jim Hall provides subtle shading to the proceedings with a light and sparing tone. Rollins, however, is remarkable, playing with a sharp-edged tone and great potency, developing lengthy solos full of bracing ideas and blustery gales of saxophone. “Brownskin Girl” is the odd tune out on this album with multiple percussionists and vocalists singing a somewhat hokey island song. The song that may have been most palatable to hipsters of the day looking for something along the lines of Jazz Samba is “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” in which choppy guitar and percussion give a slight bossa-nova hint to the music, with Rollins laying off the throttle a bit, developing a patient solo in a breezy and accessible manner. The albums that Sonny Rollins recorded for the RCA label are quite fascinating in the breadth of scope in which they investigated. It was as if they tried the kitchen sink approach: quartet, bossa-nova, quasi free-jazz, and a star studded encounter. Every album is worth looking into and this one is no exception. What's New -

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