The Sound of Sonny
The first track of this collection, “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins highlights what the album has to offer. Sonny makes you pay attention because he doesn’t just play the song as you’ve heard it before; eight of the songs are covers while two are original compositions, “Cutie” and the bonus track “Funky Hotel Blues,” which was added when the album was reissued in 1987. He adds his own flourishes while playing but his talent lies in the fact that the music doesn’t sound like showing off, but instead works within the context of the song.
He doesn’t get lost in the directions he heads and always finds his way back to the foundation laid by the rhythm section, which is made up of pianist Sonny Clark, drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Percy Heath, a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. During the recording sessions for this album Heath was unavailable one day, so Paul Chambers fills in on tracks #1, 4 and 10. Sonny doesn’t use the whole quartet on two tracks. There’s no piano on the aforementioned “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” and he is unaccompanied on “It Could Happen to You,” a wonderful solo piece.
This album was recorded in 1957 when he was 26, but Sonny plays like a man beyond his years. On “What Is There To Say?” you get a sense of what he experienced many nights from the stage. Late evenings in dark, smoky cafés sadness permeates the air. A man at the end of the bar slowly drains his drink, showing no hurry to get home to his empty apartment. A couple slow-dances in the shadows, fighting back tears, both knowing that the relationship is over, but neither is willing to acknowledge it. Tonight they hold onto the illusion of what was as tight as their embrace, knowing full well that when this night ends, so will they. If you listen and focus, it’s all there.
There are plenty of happy, upbeat songs also. There’s a toe-tappin’ cover of the Al Jolson classic, “Toot, Toot, Tootsie.” On “Mangoes,” a Rosemary Clooney hit at the time, the drums are showcased in a playful tune. Not to be left out, the piano and bass are featured on “Cutie.” Chambers even gets a solo on “Funk Hotel Blues.”
I enjoyed this album and great deal and was so impressed by his skills that I will be seeking out more Sonny Rollins so I can enjoy his other sounds.