Great playing, marred by 'live' setting
Reviewed October 2005
Without a Song (The 9/11 Concert)
By Sonny Rollins
Milestone / Fantasy Records: 2005
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Sonny Rollins, along with John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, shaped the face of modern tenor saxophone playing. From his earliest recordings with trumpeter Fats Navarro and bop architect Bud Powell in the late forties, into his work with trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk in the mid-fifties, through his recordings with trumpeter Miles Davis and drummer Max Roach and trumpeter Clifford Brown in the late fifties, his sound has been singular. In the last fifty years a time that has included a couple of retirements from and returns to music, and an interlude of Ornette Coleman-influenced free playing the saxophonist has created a colossal discography.
Since he returned from his second retirement in the early seventies, the focus has been more on r&b and popular music sounds a decision that has not been without its detractors in the jazz community; and though the discography since then has its week spots, there are also some magnificent recordings, most notably "+ 3" (Milestone, '97), a disc that serves as a perfect example of what the jazz quartet sound tenor sax and a rhythm can do with some beautiful popular melodies.
"Without a Song (The 9/11 Concert)," recorded in Boston just four days after the terrorist attack on New York, has as its theme "music as a healing power." In person, it worked. The crowd was rapturous, treating each solo with enthusiastic applause. As a recording, it suffers a bit from the maladies that inflict many live sets some overly long and less than inspired sideman solos and a the occasional too-loose structure of the extended takes on the Rollins songbook tunes.
On the other hand, Rollins in his solos is never less than inspired, and the title tune, though loose-jointed, has a playfully rollicking character that is very compelling for its entire fifteen-minute length (Rollins uses the concert setting to extend his songs). Also the Rollins-penned "Global Warming," with the addition of the African percussion of a newcomer to the group, Kimati Dinizulu, goes into adventurous territory, with Rollins searing the air in front of a hard-edged calypso beat, along with some intricate saxophone/trombone interplay by Rollins and Clifton Anderson. And throw in a mean and muscular bone solo by Anderson to boot.
Keeping in mind the "live set" weaknesses, "Without a Song (The 9/11 Concert)" is a pretty good Rollins set, recommended for those familiar with the saxophonist's work. For those who haven't heard him (and why haven't you?), "+ 3" is a better place to get acquainted.
Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).