After more than a half century as a musical explorer, Rollins occupies a level all his own. Here as always he employs his "that can only be Sonny" tenor sound and attack in chorus after chorus to take tunes through twists and turns and bend them every which way, without abandoning the melody. He performs with passion, often with playfulness, always with musical quotes at hand. And oh, those adventurous cadenzas!
The 1980 tracks, "Blossom" and "Easy Living," present Rollins in extended solos with high-energy backing by Mark Soskin, Jerome Harris and Al Foster. The edgy and rhythmic " Blossom" provides solo space for Soskin on piano and Harris on electric bass. "Easy Living" is emotional and intense with an impressionistic solo by Soskin and an impressive Rollins cadenza. With "Best Wishes," from Tokyo in 1986, Anderson has joined the band and the piano is replaced by Bobby Broom's guitar. It's a funk blues that will have you dancing. Then it's 2000 and you return to Japan for 30 remarkable choruses by Sonny on his "Tenor Madness" which dates back to 1956 and the famed duet with John Coltrane. "More Than You Know," which seems written for Rollins, displays Sonny's way with a ballad to a Toulouse audience in 2006. It's hard to imagine a Rollins CD without a romp through a calypso. In Victoria, BC in 2007, it's "Nice Lady" showcasing Anderson's trombone and inspired percussion by Kimati Dinizulu.
From the same year at Carnegie Hall, "Some Enchanted Evening" is a rare treat. Through much of his career, Sonny has recorded with musicians whose main function is support for his powerful soloing. What would he be like playing with peers? Here he is on stage with just two others: legendary drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Christian McBride. His subtle performance, use of space and the intimate musical conversation among the three will have you returning to this track again and again.
The good news is that this is just volume one. Rollins has appeared in 600 concerts or so since the late eighties and about 200 of those are in the archives. More to come!