London Jazz Festival Previews (5) : Chris Biscoe on Sonny Rollins

Chris Biscoe writes about Sonny Rollins – (London Jazz Festival, Barbican , Saturday November 14th- returns only)

Sonny Rollins playing at the Festival Hall: as a number finished he walked towards the announcement microphone and tore off an extraordinary phrase, no more than a second in length. Did he even know he’d done it? Warm-up phrase, lick, pure improvisation?

The first time I heard Sonny Rollins’ music was a radio record review by Benny Green of The Bridge, his first record after the famous early 60’s sabbatical and the practice sessions on the Williamsburg Bridge, and the track selected was Without a Song. Benny said ‘It’s hard to see where Rollins has improved while he’s been away. He sounds more hesitant than ever.’ But I was hooked, and that short period including The Bridge, Now’s the Time, On Impulse, Alfie and East Broadway Rundown remains a textbook of possible ways of manipulating a saxophone to produce the wildest range of articulation, rhythm, melodic variation, ugly sound and beautiful sound, and ballads to make you think again.

For decades Sonny Rollins has remained a popular but puzzling figure, playing a limited repertoire accompanied by bands which he seems to choose for comfort rather than inspiration, but the concerts I’ve been to have always included moments of inspiration, and extended solos which no other sax player could possibly have constructed.

Nowadays you have to be very quick off the mark to get a ticket, so it’s a few years since I’ve been to a Sonny Rollins concert.

And for those of you at the concert, I suggest you put aside that niggling little question, ‘Why is the world’s greatest living tenor player performing with these musicians rather than young lions or venerated contemporaries’? Just listen.


Here are some of Chris Biscoe’s forthcoming gigs:
November 10th, 8.30pm
MINGUS MOVES with Pete Hurt (reeds), Henry Lowther (tpt), Trevor Myers (tbn), Kate Williams (piano), Larry Bartley (bass), Stu Butterfield(drums)
The Kings Head, Crouch End Hill, N8

November 18th, 8.00pm The Orange Tree , Richmond
with BLINK (Alcyona -pno, Robin Fincker – reeds, Paul Clarvis – drums)
November 24th 8.30pm
CHRIS BISCOE talking about composers and bandleaders with whom he has recorded
Kingston Jazz Record Society, Druids Head, Kingston Market

(Photo: Stephanie Berger/New York Times)

Categories: miscellaneous

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