When somebody thinks about a saxophonist playing under a bridge in the middle of the night the first name that comes to mind is that of the legend Sonny Rollins. His latest release, a third installment of his Road Shows released under Okeh Records, features six tracks that were recorded between 2001 and 2012.
Opening off with the first track, “Biji” is a jammy tune that highlights the very tight band playfully jumping between harmonies, beautifully orchestrated between Sonny and his nephew trombonist Clifton Anderson. The shift in dynamics from Sonny’s usual tone as a bop bandleader is accented in Anderson’s trombone solo in the form of a percussion section fulfilled by Kimati Dinizulu. Showing off his ability to lead the band Rollins allows this to slide into a deeply RnB focused piano solo completed by the great Stephen Scott, a very accomplished jazz pianist in his own right. As the keys roll to a close you can almost hear Scott shoot a smile as he passes the lead on to Sonny. With his magical Tenor breakdown with its twists of overblowing, and fallbacks into the smooth bop style that soothingly sweeps up our attention and brings us square back out of the free flow, Sonny Rollins knocks this introduction into the third installment of the Road Shows straight out of the park.
The second installment in this album, “Someday I’ll Find You” highlights the softer side of Sonny’s jazz face as the chime filled percussion section gives way to the sublimely smooth guitar tones filled out by Bobby Broom Jr. who sets the stage bringing this tune to life. Taking us on a journey through longing and loss and pulling us out of the structure into the songs own revelation Sonny Rollins immediately and abruptly pulls us out of the dreamy state into the present with his powerhouse Tenor playing, filling out the rest of the track with his beauty blissfully and gently pulling us out of the song with his final few notes.
Leading up to the main focus of album by sharply contrasting the second track “Patanjali” kicks things into double time with its fast paced drum andpercussion section held by Kobie Watkins and Sammy Figueroa. Diverging from the previous song structure where Rollins would build the background of the song then allow his band to lead their own way back into it, Sonny delivers the initial lead executing his take flawlessly building on a constant flow of tenor work that stems from his 65 years of jazz brilliance. The guitar work is still very subtle rhythm work that builds on the drumming polyrhythms leaving us with a sense of awe staring at Peter Bernstein’s very capable hands which very quickly light up the fret board using a heavy driven rhythm to build on and lead into his very tastefully laid down solo lines. Filing out Sonny along with Anderson bring the song back home with the type of playing that you can only expect from relatives on the road.
Solo Sonny gives us some insight into the inner workings of Sonny’s musical thoughts. It is not often that an artist, without the support of another instrument, can perform so eloquently. Sonny brings his instrument to life giving it a voice to sing almost A cappella to a crowd of adoring fans. The song takes us on a journey through the ups and downs of musical emotion and playfully casts a few shimmers of light on the capability of the powerhouse 84 year old showing us why he is known as the Saxophone Colossus. Ending miraculously with the help of the full band.
“Why Was I Born” is a free flow jazz piece beginning with lick sharing trombone and tenor lines fading into a tenor driven intro that Sonny quickly passes off to Bobby Broom who magnificently builds a performers theme with his driving guitar leads. This falls back to Sonny who gracefully takes the ball and pulls out the key bop jazz lines that has separated his voice as a musician for his over 50 year career. Sonny passes this ball to the astounding drum work of one Steve Jordan who takes his fills with a very serious note embracing the rock n roll edge of hard bop with his perfect jazz technique. A unique feature of this track is the embellished bass work of Bob Cranshaw that seems to stand out with the incredible drumming power that appears towards the end of the track. Sure enough, smooth as silk, Sonny brings the song to a close igniting the end of this twenty-three minute long monster of a song.
Finally “Don’t Stop the Carnival” is a wink at the versatility of Sonny’s ability to tackle Latin/calypso jazz styles. It is also the perfect ending to this album, as you simply cannot get enough of the music. As a whole this third volume of Sonny Rollins’ Road Shows is something for the treasury, and who wouldn’t guess it coming from the Grammy award-winning saxophonist.