Sonny Rollins Forever. That was what my T-Shirt that I purchased the last time I saw him at the Kennedy Center says. Last night I had a chance to see him at this year’s Montreal International Jazz Festival (Festival International de Jazz de Montreal) where he performed Sunday, June 27 at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, PdA, as part of Les Événements spéciaux TD series. Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier is the largest all-purpose concert hall in Canada and the site of the Festival’s major ticketed concerts.
Rollins had a somewhat different band than he had in Washington at the Kennedy Center. First of all, his nephew trombonist Clifton Anderson was not present and also Russell Malone was his guitarist. On electric bass was his long-time associate, Bob Cranshaw, however I did not make out the names of the drummer or percussionist. I could not identify the opening calypso number and while the sound was a little echoey during it, it was not nearly as bad as the two shows I saw at the Kennedy Center within the last three years and by the end of the first song the sound was much better. Maybe because I was sitting in the lowest balcony as opposed as mid-floor as in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, the sound sounded better, or maybe the sound engineers in Montreal were simply better.
After the opening number, Sonny led us into a marvelous rendition of the ballad “My One and Only Love,” with a somewhat warmer tone than hard, husky tone employed on the opening number. Guitarist Malone was his equal here, responding with lines that at times recalled Jim Hall and John Scofeld. During the set he also effectively comped during one of Cranshaw’s solos. Up next was a marvelous rendition of “Global Warming,” which gave everyone an opportunity to shine and then another marvelous ballad, “Serenade,” from his most recent studio album, “Sonny Please.” After another exhilarating romp, Sonny launched into the blues, a bit of honking before singing about his low-down baby and her evil ways and then a short R&B-ish solo and they were done. Perhaps not as good as the late Dexter Gordon singing “Jelly Jelly,” it was perhaps a nod to Louis Jordan who I believe is an influence.
Despite the enthusiastic cheers of the audience, the band did come back for a curtain call but there was no subsequent encore. It was a superb 75 minutes of Sonny Rollins and as he turns 80, one enjoys every opportunity to see the master. Sonny Rollins Forever indeed.