The Complete Sonny Rollins RCA Victor Recordings

COMPOSERS: Sonny Rollins
LABELS: RCA Victor
WORKS: The Complete Sonny Rollins RCA Victor Recordings
PERFORMER: Rollins, Coleman Hawkins (ts), etc
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68675 2

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Rollins is one of the most self-searching of all the great improvisers, and there were at least three periods when he retired from public performance and recording in order to think again about his music. This handsome boxed set covering the years 1962-4 documents the results of his second such retreat, brought on in 1959 perhaps by the arrivals of both John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman with the more radical avant-garde.

During his two years’ ‘woodshedding’, much of his saxophone practice was done in the open air on Williamsburg Bridge, New York City. The first album of his return, thus called The Bridge, shows that Rollins had simply become more and more himself, his qualities writ large: the intensity of his swing, the focus and passionate fluidity of his imagination, and the penchant for thematic variation.

The sixth CD includes The Standard Sonny Rollins, which also has him at his best with focused and dynamic versions of ten standards, including a misty and compassionate rendition of ‘Trav’lin’ Light’ with a group that includes the masterful guitarist Jim Hall and two avant-gardists, bassist David Izenson and drummer Stu Martin.

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Other CDs show a more diffuse and experimental Rollins stretching out with Ornette Coleman’s associate, trumpeter Don Cherry. And when recording with his idol, Coleman Hawkins (who plays effortlessly), Rollins produces wilfully angular phrases, tonal distortions and oblique notes, as if straining to deny any influence from the older man. The CDs feature all six albums that Rollins recorded, plus additional tracks and some joyous calypsos. IC