4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"One of the best groups Rollins ever recorded with",
This review is from: Sonny Rollins On Impulse! (Audio CD)
The 1960s were a problematic period for Rollins's music. After a successful "comeback" album with Jim Hall in 1962 he seemed to lose a sense of direction, seemingly dissatisfied with traditional jazz material and harmonic structures and never staying for long with any one performing group. The flirtations with "free" improvisation and over-extended solo performance took him away from the true sources of his inspiration and left no music of lasting interest. Nevertheless, they did add beneficially to the tonal resources of his playing and brought to his improvising on conventional jazz material a new sense of harmonic risk-taking.
Those qualities are well in evidence on this album, with the possible exception of the weakest track, "Everything Happens to Me", on which Rollins soon runs out of inspiration (or interest), leaving pianist Ray Bryant to keep the music going with a subtly crafted solo. The best track - one of Rollins's finest performances - is a witty, inventive, up-tempo "Three Little Words", an example of how he can take a banal, trivial tune and transform it through a kind of creative alchemy.
The other tracks are not up to this level of inspiration, but are full of good things. "Hold 'Em Joe" is one of those calypso tunes which always brought out the joyous, extrovert side of his playing and there's a nicely shaped, ruminative reading of "Blue Room", at a perfectly judged tempo, which is notable also for some subtle dovetailing of saxophone and piano.
"On Green Dolphin Street" is a rather strange track - as on "Everything Happens to Me" Rollins seems to leave most of the work to his colleagues. After a promising statement of the theme at a fairly fast tempo, in his solo he becomes preoccupied with trying to reduce it down to the simplest melodic essentials employing the fewest possible notes. I leave you to judge whether it is an example of that boredom with conventional jazz material which often seemed to afflict Rollins during the 1960s, or whether it is a successful piece of creative jazz minimalism. Like every track on the album it is a good group performance.
For me, this was one of the best groups Rollins ever recorded with and it's a pity they produced only the one album. Bryant plays superbly throughout, in a post-bop style which seems to distil the essence of three decades of jazz piano (without sounding at all derivative), and Booker and Roker are both alert and inventive musicians, so that there are always interesting things going on in the rhythm section which enliven, without disturbing, what is going on in the 'front line'. Despite the quirkiness and the uneven quality of Rollins's playing, it's an absorbing album that repays repeated listening.
I should add that these tracks - minus "On Green Dolphin Street" - are also available on a mid-price CD in the "Priceless Jazz" series, along with three excellent tracks from two other 1960s Rollins sessions: Alfie and East Broadway Rundown. I would recommend it over this CD as a fine sampler of the best of Rollins's work in the 1960s, though it's a pity that space was not found for the omitted track.