Once again we're paying a visit to Concord's tribute to long-time producer Orrin Keepnews, the Keepnews Collection, a series of 24-bit reissues of a number of timeless jazz recordings. (Previously: Wes Montgomery, Coleman Hawkins, Nat Adderley.) In this review, we're covering Freedom Suite, Sonny Rollins' 1958 classic.
Unlike most of the legends in the series, tenor sax wizard Rollins is still around after six decades of performing and he remains a part of today's jazz scene. It's actually a little ironic because over the course of his career he was known for occasionally retiring from the business, returning later and in some cases reinventing himself in the process.
His Freedom Suite album was recorded just before his first extended shutdown (which lasted from 1959 to 1961) and it features a young and vibrant Rollins in the prime of his early career. He'd spent much of the previous decade playing alongside Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, and had also spent some time with the Max Roach-Clifford Brown quintet, but by the late Fifties he was coming into his own as a star.
Freedom Suite is an album that has been reissued in various versions through the years, with most containing either five or six tracks. This newest reissue adds some bonus material from the original sessions for a total of eight tracks, but one of those is – strangely enough – without Rollins. The other members of the trio who were enlisted for the album, drummer Max Roach and bassist Oscar Pettiford, were in place and ready to start recording, but Rollins was AWOL. The – er – duo recorded "There Will Never Be Another You," and it was left off the original album but is included here.
Although that particular piece is a little odd, it's always good to hear first-class pros like Roach and Pettiford doing their thing. But the rest of the tracks are a little more fulfilling, with the guy who is – after all – the star of album wailing away on some outstanding pieces. The title tune is almost 20 minutes in length, allowing for a lot of improvisation from all but especially Rollins, and I also enjoyed "Shadow Waltz," which shows a slight softer side.
As always, I'm a sucker for standards, and this album has three – count 'em, three – different takes on "Till There Was You," the Meredith Willson tune. Difficult to choose from among them so take my advice and enjoy all three. In fact, enjoy the whole album — it's one of the classics.