Though many sax players have received much better acclaim and success, few have daunted fellow musicians and critics like Sonny Rollins. In an interview ECM Records asked me to conduct with Tomasz Stanko years ago, I asked the off-continent giant whom he thought was the greatest living musician, and, without a moment's hesitation, the trumpeter many consider to be Europe's Miles Davis answered "Sonny Rollins!". This DVD, a part of an astonishing project of jazz single releases and box sets from Naxos Records, shows why the man holds such respect among and above peers.
The recordings presented are rare but were part of a broadcast series that never would have seen the light of day in the benighted USA. Remember, these were the days when Miles was spat upon in the States and lionized in France. Very few Americans have seen any of what's presented in this now-23-volume series, as more than a few were never broadcst *anywhere*. Luckily, the Danes of the 60s were blessed with a much more advanced aesthetic sense, and Rollins was invited to be part of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival enterprise. The recordings are in the expected black and white and monaurally recorded but those elements only augment the experience of travelling back in time.
The 60s were a crossroads for Rollins, who would later go way beyond the peripheries of accepted jazz conventions. Here, he blends the traditional and jazz novum perfectly, backed by a shockingly young Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (19 and playing like a demon, as jaw-droppingly demonstrated almost out of the gate, in his solo during There Will Never be Another You) and ultra-precise Alan Dawson on drums. Through eight long songs, Rollins continually coaxes dimensions out of his selections by way of hyper-intelligent improv. Watching the interplay is fascinating. These guys never let up for a microsecond. Pedersen is easily the equivalent of a modern rock or jazz guitar star, Dawson is on the point flawlessly with amazing stickwork, and Rollins allows his sidemen generous spaces before jumping back in and burning up. The sheer amount of permutations issuing from that sax of his, coolly delivered while flaming, is incredible. The man never lacked for ideas.
Watching Rollins, one easily understands why true jazz lovers must fail to be satisfied by the likes of David Sanborn or Grover Washington. The difference is night and day. Dave and Grover provide entertainment, Sonny makes art, constantly, without let, and written in glyphs as would impress the gods and goddesses. The addition of the highly articulate Kenny Drew on piano in the '68 gig only widens the parameters, giving Rollins more to invent against in an entirely expanded sound endowing a more cosmopolitan edge to the three cuts. No matter where you cut in on this extravaganza, it's quickly obvious that the music here is timeless. Rollins has no equal save perhaps for Coltrane (and Sam Rivers partisans will howl, but what the heck) and it isn't likely anyone's going to top or match him in the near future.
Links to the reviews of the other DVDs in this set:
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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