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Music Review: Sonny Rollins – The Definitive Sonny Rollins

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The Concord Music Group has assembled a new music series in which classic material from the ’50s by such jazz giants as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins are being resurrected and issued as two-CD sets. These best-of or definitive compilations are wonderful introductions to not only these legendary artists but to an era of American jazz as well.

Sonny Rollins, who will turn 80 on September 7, first entered a recording studio in 1949 and continues to record and play live today. He is one of the most influential tenor saxophonists and jazz musicians of his generation and now, over sixty years into his career, has outlived most of his contemporaries. He has played with a who’s who of jazz musicians including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and The Modern Jazz Quartet.

The Definitive Sonny Rollins gathers material beginning in 1951 with his work for the Modern Jazz Quartet, continues with tracks from his Prestige recordings, and concludes with some releases from the Riverside label and finally the Contemporary label during 1958. The enclosed booklet is excellent with a nice personal biography plus a history of each recording.

The most interesting track is the nineteen-minute “The Freedom Suite.” It was recorded during early 1958 at a time when Rollins had stopped using a piano as a part of his group. He recorded with only a bass and drum and when his sax was not the lead he would use it as the rhythm instrument during the drum solos. This long track in particular presents Rollins at his improvisational best and his interplay with drummer Max Roach is exceptional.

Rollins was always a genius at taking decidedly non-jazz material and adapting it to his unique style. Johnny Mercer’s “I’m An Old Cowhand” and the Lerner-Lowe tune, “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” are both excellent examples of this approach.

There are a number of other notable tracks. “St. Thomas” is a calypso-based tune and remains his most famous song. “Mambo Bounce”and “In A Sentimental Mood” are the oldest tracks. These early fifties recordings with The Modern Jazz Quartet present his still developing style.

The Definitive Sonny Rollins is a nice look into the early career of a jazz legend. It is nice to have so many classic treats in one place.

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