Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sonny Rollins - Way Out West ]Deluxe Edition] (Craft Recordings, 2018)

Tenor saxophone legend Sonny Rollins was at the height of his powers in 1957 when he recorded this titanic classic of modern jazz, a famously relaxed session with Ray Brown on bass and Shelly Manne on drums that started around three in the morning and really started cooking as the sun came up. Like his equally famous recordings from the Village Vanguard, Rollins plays with just bass and drums, allowing him considerable freedom to shape the music, and the rhythm team of Brown and Manne are very sympathetic to the cause. You really hear the wit and sagacity that is present in Rollins' most famous recordings (not to mention the cover photograph which is one for the ages,) beginning with the clip-clopping beat to the opening track "I'm an Old Cowhand" that makes perfect sense given the context and the leader's love of classic western films. This and adds a scent of humor without ever resorting to cheese, and provides just the right push that guides the band into making a iconic performance. Manne adds aspects of this beat to the track "Wagon Wheels" which is a lustrous mid-tempo performance, that really accentuates burnished beauty of Rollins' tenor saxophone sound, which is absolutely glowing throughout this record. The beautiful ballad "Solitude" is a very patient and impressive performance, with Manne playing subtle brushes and Brown adding slow and resonant bass notes while Rollins glides around the music with a sense of stately grace. "Come, Gone" amps the tempo back up to a steaming three way improvisation, with Brown loping gleefully on bass and Shelly Manne swinging madly on cymbals, before taking an excellent solo of his own as Rollins spools out a seemingly endless array of variations on the theme. This new reissue adds some of the studio chatter, in which Rollins discusses the need to understand the lyrics of a standard or pop song in order to fully inhabit it. This was a trait that he shared with other famous tenor saxophonists like Lester Young Dexter Gordon who would often preface a live performance with a short recitation of a lyric before launching into an alternate take to "I'm an Old Cowhand" that runs nearly double the length of the original released performance. They discuss renaming a song (with a slightly bawdy wink) in order to give Rollins an original composition and some royalties, and the alternate version of this song "Come, Gone" is once again stretched out past the ten minute mark. These extra tracks are not filler, they are really interesting to listen to, and show how the band would construct their performances and how Rollins could create spontaneously out of thin air like a magician. This collection is available in digital form, but the two LP record really goes to town with re-mastered sound, old and new liner notes and photographs and other ephemera. Regardless of how you find it, this is a classic of post war jazz and deserves to be in every jazz fan's record collection. Way Out West [Deluxe Edition] - amazon.com

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