Sonny Rollins Live!

Sonny Rollins In Vienne (Doxy/Emarcy)

Road Shows, Vol. 1 (Doxy/Emarcy)

Sonny Rollins

By Martin Kasdan Jr.

As I have written before, in my opinion Sonny Rollins is the greatest living jazz saxophonist. Like all of the best jazz musicians, his talent peaks in live performance.

In fact, many critics and fans alike have commented over the years that his studio albums just don't capture his fiery, passionate playing. Thus, we are blessed to have not just one, but two new live releases by Rollins, (in addition to his entry in the just-released third series of Jazz Icons DVDs): One is a DVD, Sonny Rollins In Vienne, and the other is a CD, Road Shows, Vol. 1. Of the two, the DVD is my favorite, for the dual reasons that we can not only hear but see Rollins, and that it is a complete concert (June 29, 2006, Vienne, France). The CD is a compilation of live tracks recorded around the world between 1980 and 2007.

Vienne features Rollins with Bobby Broom on guitar, Clifton Anderson on trombone, Bob Cranshaw on electric bass, Victor Lewis on drums, and Kimati Dinizulu on percussion; all but Lewis are longtime band members, and this great drummer fits right in with the rest of the musicians. Rollins opens with an upbeat and uplifting version of "They Say It's Wonderful," following it with his politically charged calypso, "Global Warming." Rollins prowls the stage as he reels off chorus after chorus.

Next is the title song from his 2007 album, "Sonny, Please" with the master pacing the stage like the Eveready Bunny of sax. He slows the pace for the beautiful ballad, "I See Your Face Before Me," which features an understated bass solo. The performance closes with almost 22 minutes of "Don't Stop the Carnival," with Rollins interspersing numerous quotes into his soloing, making the band members smile. You need to have this DVD. Now.

Road Shows, Vol. 1, as noted, is a compilation and, as the title suggests, the first in a series of planned archival releases. Throughout the performances, with shifting personnel and differing audio sources, the one constant is that Sonny Rollins plays like there is no tomorrow.

The most unique piece is the closing "Some Enchanted Evening," from the September 18, 2007, Carnegie Hall concert celebrating Rollins' first concert there back in 1957. While the other pieces feature quartet or larger ensembles, this one has the saxophonist accompanied only by bassist Christian McBride and drummer Roy Haynes. A special treat is the previously unreleased (indeed, unrecorded) Rollins original "Blossom," from Sweden in 1980. A mid-tempo song with a Latin flavor, it is a welcome addition to the Rollins canon.

This CD is a wonderful collection, and one hopes that future volumes will provide full concert recordings or, like the Grateful Dead's recent series entitled "Road Trips," select the best versions of songs from a particular run of shows.

Get the groove over at www.sonnyrollins.com.