The circumstances surrounding this album need not be covered again. Suffice it to say Sonny Rollins was not sure he wanted to play this concert and had to be talked into it. It’s our good luck that he ended up recording this set.
Maybe initial jitters account for the sloppy start of the title cut, but in no time
Rollins is his old self - practicing the fine art of developmental improvisation along with wry quotes (including "Oh Susannah," quoted twice.)
Trombonist Clifton Anderson double-times his solo well enough, but his muffled sound leads one to believe that he played the concert with the microphone all the way up his bell. A recent Curtis Fuller concert attended by this reviewer makes one think that this must be a new trend amongst slide-hornists. At any rate, it’s quite distracting. Stephen Scott plays locked-hand, almost gospel style for his solo.
One interesting note of trivia, both "Without a Song" and bassist Bob Cranshaw appeared on Rollins’ first of many comeback albums, "The Bridge." On that release, Cranshaw played acoustic bass, which is preferable to the thinner electric bass sound on this CD. Kimati Dinizulu throws in some interesting, but superfluous, percussive shots before Rollins takes the cut out in high style.
Then comes "Global Warming." It was a happy day for jazz fans when Sonny Rollins discovered the calypso. Some of his most joyous playing has come from this joyous style. Dinizulu gives with the kalimba, making for an authentic equatorial sound. Anderson’s horn seems to have come mostly unstuck on this tune, showing off a fine, mellow tone. He also has fun with juxtaposition of rhythmic figures, just like the boss. More unneeded conga slaps follow before Sonny comes in for a ride only he could take at 71 years old (his age at the time of the concert.)
Now the ballad - great choice - "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," but Cranshaw’s electric bass is just too staccato for a classic ballad. His solo doesn’t help. After some just-this-side-of-the-tracks noodlings, Rollins ends this briefest cut mercifully.
"Why Was I Born" is given as an up-tempo flag-waver with Stephen Scott showing a Wynton Kelly flavor with some out and out swinging, and quoting of Monk. Anderson again tries to swallow the mike but comes out of it long enough to give the late J.J. Johnson a run for his money with quicksilver fluidity. Rollins takes it out passionately as only Rollins can. No comparisons here.
"Where or When" sounds like it might have been recorded at a different time, at a sound check or maybe even a different venue. There’s less echo and less applause. Anderson, Scott and then Rollins swing more smoothly than on the rest of the CD, as if finally comfortable or maybe even somewhere else.
No matter. Any chance to hear Rollins is a rare pleasure, electric bass and overly busy percussion notwithstanding. Pick up any Rollins CD and you’ll always be richly rewarded.