One of the most celebrated jazz concerts of the past couple years was the 80th Birthday celebration of Sonny Rollins in New York City. Performances from that concert form the core of Rollins’ second compilation of live recordings, Road Songs Vol. 2 on his Doxy label (Doxy/Emarcy). Four of the six selections come from that September 2010, Beacon Theatre concert with the other two performances coming from Japanese concerts, less than a month later. Most of the performances feature Sonny’s band of the time with Russell Malone on guitar, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Kobie Watkins on drums and Sammy Figueroa on percussion with one track having a historic collaboration.
Opening up is a rendition of Irving Berlin’s They Say It’s Wonderful, which has a nice solo from Malone after Rollins introduces the theme. Its a typical performance that fans of Rollins live performances from the last few years will be familiar with and centers around the trading of fours with drummer Watkins. It is followed by Sonny introducing Jim Hall with Hall performing (without Sonny) In a Sentimental Mood. If a wonderful performance, it is odd that an actual collaboration between Rollins and Hall is not present on this Sonny Rollins album.
The blues, Sonnymoon For Two, with the rhythm section of Christian McBride and Roy Haynes, was the historic meeting of Rollins with Ornette Coleman, who Rollins teases the audience about as a special birthday guest after his initial solo in a trio vein, and after initially asking him to come out takes another solo before Coleman comes out and the contrast in styles and how a solo is constructed between his approach and Rollins will be immediately evident and not simply because he is playing alto sax. While the interest of the meeting on stage by the two, the performance strikes this listener as a string of a unconnected solos based on Rollins’ blues composition, with some interchanges between the two and some inspired playing from Rollins later in the performance but as a whole this sounds more interesting than it sounds magical.
I Can’t Get Started opens with Roy Hargrove opening and playing exquisitely before Sonny enters on this ballad with his robust tone providing a counterpoint to Hargrove’s lyricism. It is followed by a lively Raincheck from Billy Strayhorn’s songbook, taken at a lively tempo with a calypso-tinge. Hargrove is bright and incisive here with the two trading fours starting about two-thirds of the way through this performance.
An abbreviated performance of St. Thomas concludes this recording. The editing of the performances is seamless and it comes off to the listener as one concert even though it mixes performances from three concerts, and the order of the Beacon Theatre performances is not in order of performance. The performances sound representative of the performances by Sonny Rollins I have seen over the past few years (thankfully without the sound issues that plagued the first third to half of recent Kennedy Center performances). It is certainly welcome to have this available even if I might suggest other Rollins recordings of live performances of the past decade a bit more consistent and magical. I specifically point to Without A Song - The 9/11 Concert.
I purchased this CD as a download.