Sonny Rollins - Five MAXIMIZED Stars. Six Stars, if it's allowed. Sonny Rollins has continued to lead in the world of tenor saxophonists, sometimes sharing the championship, sometimes taking sabbaticals to renew and refresh himself, but he never conceded the title. "On Impulse" is a mid-career wonder of a CD with yet another incarnation of a support group: Ray Bryant's gospel-inspired piano, the impeccable plucking of Walter Booker, and the indomitable Mickey Roker on Drums.
Suffice it to say from the beginning that "Three Little Words" is a monster of a performance. A real Piece D'Resistance. Cited by a noted jazz critic in the 1960's as one of the greatest tenor sax solos of all time, I must agree. It's mind-blowing and unflagging in speed of thought, execution, swing, and hipness. Rollins crams in so much thought and technique, it's a breathless experience as he continues to reach deeper and deeper still as the performance careens along on both sides of Ray Bryant's wonderful piano solo. And it even ends with a Rollins trademark out-of-tempo solo coda. WOW!!! Hit the 'Repeat' button, again, please!
Then move on to one of the most unusual performances of the standard "On Green Dolphin Street" you will ever hear. The original liner notes said this was probably a warm-up song, I disagree. This is intentional, all the way, and Rollins is ON FIRE from jump street, inspiring Bryant and Booker to some fabulous soloing of their own. The unusual surging into and out of 4/4 really contributes to the mysterious atmosphere created by the quartet. And Rollins' noddling in the background, behind the other two solos, really sustains the mood, paving the way for his re-entry. Mickey Roker's drumming is positively unflagging in inventiveness. "Blue Room" is masterful in both tone and conception, re-vitalizing this hoariest of Rodgers & Hart popular songs, first given it's jazz christening by Frankie Trumbauer in 1934. Sonny delivers a powerful thematic performance. Certainly no Rollins performance is complete without one Calypso song and the Belafonte classic "Hold 'em Joe" is a perfect choice: a joyous mixture of calypso beat and inventiveness that will have your toes tapping. Booker and Roker really push Rollins and Bryant along.
This is a must have recording in your Sonny Rollins collection. Rollins has been quoted, "I'm always fighting this thing where people are trying to categorize me". Indeed. In this time period, Rollins had morphed out of the 'quartet with guitar' of "The Bridge", into his piano-less "new thing" explorations with some of Ornette's musicians (Cherry and Higgins) on "Our Man in Jazz", into the superb large orchestrations of Oliver Nelson with "Alfie", and was shortly to morph into a different type of 'new thing'-influenced experimentation entitled "East Broadway Rundown" with Coltrane's guys (Jimmy and Elvin) and Freddie Hubbard. Literally drawing inspiration from those he had inspired. Neat Trick, Sonny! This CD was an important part of his relentless musical explorations which have continued to this day with the fabulous Grammy winning CD "This Is What I Do", won at the age of 70. See him live if you can, he's the best I've seen in a live performance. SIX STARS!!!
as far as i'm concerned sonny rollins was at his best in the 60s, sounding like no other saxophone player. but it takes more than a unique sound to be good, and sonny rollins then was one of the best. on green dolphin street, not my favorite rendition, i favor standards pretty close to the bone, rollins' version is a slower tempo and strong on improvisation, which isn't a complaint, his playing is laid back and breezy, and from jazz, from sonny rollins, i couldn't ask for any more. i could say the same about everything happens to me, except there's that rollins' bluesyness that fits the mood of the lyric so well and blows me away. hold 'em joe, is one of rollins' signature calypso choices. blue room, wow. blue room is worth the price of the recording. sonny rollins' saxophone playing in the 60s was for me the definition of cool, and no more so than on blue room. the pace picks up with three little words, rounding off the recording nicely.
ray bryant on piano, walter booker on bass, and mickey roker on drums, complete the quartet.