Alas, the Brown-Roach Quintet didn't record exclusively for EmArcy! This gem was recorded for Prestige and tends to be overlooked in favor of the more famous material owned by Mercury. Prestige is the record label most notable for its blowing sessions, which is exactly why you want to hear this group in that mold.
Never has the quintet sounded mightier: never had Sonny Rollins sounded so comfortable riding the soundscapes of a rhythm section, never had Clifford Brown ventured into such great lands (such as a solo only accompanied by walking bass), never had Richie Powell played with such confidence and rhythmic fluency, never had George Morrow set such a rock-solid bass undertone, and of course, never had Max Roach been so active, busy, and attention-demanding on the drumset. "Sonny Rollins Plus Four" sees him leading the famous quintet through new, fascinating, and smoking-hot repertoire.
While this may be the Brown-Roach quintet featuring Clifford Brown in one of his three sidemen appearances, make no mistake that this is Sonny Rollins' album and that his sound is the focus of its music. Sonny Rollins is jazz's most famous adventurer into the realm of waltzing in ¾ time, kick-started by his remarkable composition "Valse Hot." This is probably one of the very first times that the quintet's members had ever played (and soloed!) in a waltz setting, but they don't get lost in the least - they plow right through its bouncy lilt. Rollins' other composition on the album, "Pent-Up House," is another famous tune that has made its way into the Real Book, being an expert study and test in the II-V-I turnaround. Pent-Up House features possibly Clifford Brown's best solo on record; with such rhythmically mature phrasing, it almost sounds like it was written ahead of time.
Now, the reason this album is so overlooked by critics and fans alike is because it doesn't implement the art of "revolutionizing" that so many listeners clamor for. In a way, this is true - it is simply a blowing session issued by Prestige to get some cash. However, there are two forms of a classic album - one so stunningly forward-thinking and different that it merits gold status on its own uniqueness, or one that's just so damn good and features musicians so talented that it can't help but be a classic on its own music. "Plus Four" falls into the latter category.
If you're a true Rollins fanatic (read: freak), you won't be looking at this - you'll already have it as a part of Prestige's 11-CD boxed set "The Complete Prestige Recordings." Since that compilation features so many other amazing sessions (such as Tenor Madness, the sessions with Miles and Bird, and the music with Art Farmer), you'd be wise to opt for that over its individual sessions. If you're strapped for cash or just want to hear this edition of the Brown-Roach Quintet in its jam session mode, no shame in going for Plus Four.
While this album features two original compositions, there are three standards as well - and the best one is "I Feel a Song Coming On." It's exactly what it sounds like - a quiet storm, the pedal Bb increasing in magnitude, the group finally exploding in a straight-four barn-burning dance. They cut the rug with effervescent solos and shoot the music up into the hills and beyond.
This is beyond most of the albums that the Brown-Roach Quintet cut, possibly being the second best behind "At Basin Street." "Plus Four" sees Rollins taking his musicians to the limit and over the waves of the great musical sea, waves whispering about the isles of incredibly weaved sax lines and sparkling trumpet tones.