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Without a Song: the 9/11 Concert by Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins once said, "Music is an open sky." On that Tuesday when horror came from the open sky, he was at his apartment six blocks from the World Trade Center. From the street he saw the second tower fall. He then lost himself in his music, practicing. On the next day the building was evacuated and Rollins left with his horn. He lost his piano, music and books. On Saturday night, in spite of this traumatic experience and travel difficulties, Rollins was on stage at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston. What got him there, besides the encouragement of his wife and manager, Lucille, was what he told the Boston audience," Maybe music can help. I don't know, but we have to try something these days."

Without A Song captures that memorable performance, his first live band recording since G-Man in 1986. It was taped, secretly, by Carl Smith, a collector from Maine whose life was changed by first hearing Rollins in concert in 2000. The circumstances surrounding this release finally involved Smith, Gary Giddins, Stanley Crouch, and Rollins himself.

Rollins brought healing to Boston. His music is always uninhibited and filled with joy. Just contrast the pensive lyrics of "Why Was I Born" and "Where or When" with their musical treatment! What better in the midst of pain. With only five tunes, there was plenty of opportunity for innovation and exploration. Often his supporting cast has seemed limited to just that role. Here I found them inspired. Trombonist Clifton Anderson's contributions demonstrate that he has really been listening to his mentor while pianist Stephen Scott is creative, particularly in his cascading solo on "Why Was I Born," which became a high-flying calypso.

Rollins makes the familiar new: "Without a Song," his calypso. "Global Warming," and a reexamination of "Berkeley Square.) (All five songs have appeared earlier on his recordings.) He has the energy and ability to spin out chorus after chorus, turning the tune every which way, dropping in humorous quotes, yet always respecting the melody. His playing combines intensity with rhythmic flexibility and his solos display both intuition and intelligence.

A fine release by the most remarkable of improvisers. I've been fortunate to hear him a few times. If you get that chance, don't pass it up. We will not see the like of this humble and majestic colossus again.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Sonny Rollins
  • CD Title: Without a Song: the 9/11 Concert
  • Genre: BeBop / Hard Bop
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Milestone
  • Tracks: Without a Song, Global Warming, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Why Was I Born, Where or When
  • Musicians: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone), Clifton Anderson (trombone), Stephen Scott (piano), Bob Cranshaw (electric bass), Perry Wilson (drums), Kimati Dinizulu percussion)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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