Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sonny Rollins - Holding the Stage (Road Shows, Vol. 4) (Sony Masterworks, 2016)

The onset of age and respiratory problems may have tenor saxophone legend Sonny Rollins in grudging retirement, but he continues to release some of his finest archival performances on the Road Shows series, now in its fourth volume. The music on this album is from 1979 to 2012 and flows like a Rollins concert, waxing and waning through varying moods, but filled throughout with thrilling saxophone solos. The album opens with a sensuous version of Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” with Rollins beginning the melody by himself, using all of his years of experience to patiently breath life into a much loved standard. “Disco Monk” is unusual, a dedication to his friend and mentor from the height of that era in 1979. There is a strange fascination at work in this performance, the chunky beats of a dance rhythm juxtaposed against the unpredictable rhythmic nature of the music of Thelonious Monk. It is a daring piece to include, since the jazz police may turn up their collective noses but Sonny knows its value, both in the unusual combination and in the solo it leads him to take. He steps away from the band entirely on “Solo” and it is a mighty thing to hear. Rollins plays with the confidence and bravado to allow the music to flow through him, never forcing it, but improvising in such a manner that it seems like all possibilities are available to him with the notes like a cloud of musical electrons free in space and time. “Don’t Stop the Carnival” is one of his most popular live pieces and there is a very nice version of it to end this album. The fine calypso melody gets a roar out of the audience immediately and beckons Rollins to be at his most communicative, swinging and swaying through a lengthy up-tempo happy and fun sounding solo buoyed by the band that is light on its feet and brings the crowd and the album to a rousing conclusion. It’s astonishing to think that this came from the Boston concert that took place on September 15, 2011. Much of this concert had been released on the Without a Song album, but to imagine Sonny Rollins playing this song of pure joy so buoyantly just days after having to evacuate his apartment during America’s darkest hour is simply astonishing. This is a fine set of music from Sonny Rollins, and live music was always the way that he felt most comfortable communicating. His saxophone just seems to be a golden beam of light shining out from whatever setting he finds himself. Holding the Stage (Road Shows, Vol. 4) - amazon.com

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