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Brief But Beautiful,
This review is from: Alfie (Audio CD)
When Rollins arrived in the UK in autumn 1965 to commence work on "composing" the score for director Lewis Gilbert's adaptation of Bill Naughton's play "Alfie" everyone knew that something - almost anything - might happen.
Rollins had long been regarded as one of jazz music's most capricious characters - his band personnels might change from night to night - but following his post-"Bridge" comeback this quirkiness sometimes bordered on the genuinely bizarre.
His previous UK visit to Ronnie Scott's club in January of the same year was full of tales of Rollins odd behaviour: dressing room impersonations: opening numbers begun in a taxi outside the club: rows of tambournines adorning his waistband: wandering off into Gerrard Street during his sets, still playing: Stetson hats: raincoats on stage: periods of swishing the horn to and fro without blowing into it. Most importantly Rollins proved hands down to anyone who thought he might not have anything new to say that he did, and how.
Sometimes it emerged in great unending set long cadenzas leaving his accompanists trailing like a royal entourage outpaced by an eager monarch. At other times, it spluttered and appeared sporadically as if from an airlocked tap. What it was however was uniformly fascinating. Lewis Gilbert's son was a huge Rollins fan and caught him at Ronnie's and persuaded his father that this immense creative mind could come up with a film score fitting with this modern tale about the emotional growth of a cynical lothario.
Right from the off things were fraught with panic due to Rollins apparent disregard for the deadlines of the job. Ronnie Scott, booked to play on the soundtrack session, visited the tenorist in his hotel room on the day prior to the first session and was shocked to discover that Rollins had only written a few bars. "How should we treat this music?" asked Scott.
"Treat It Lightly", replied Rollins. And so it was.
The sessions held at Twickenham studios in October 1965 in reality couldn't have taken place had Rollins not had a group of jazz musicians under his sometimes compulsive direction. The finest UK talent had been called in, including Tubby Hayes, Stan Tracey, Phil Seamen, bassist Johnny Hawkesworth and guitarist Dave Golberg and things were more or less conceived mutually as the scenes ran on screen. As such only eleven minutes of music was completed, and occaisionally Rollins worked with methodical precision only to announce at the end of the day that he'd like to scrap everything and try again. The perplexing situation wasn't aided by a few little creative perks between sessions.
Finally, after three fretful days, Gilbert had his score in the can and when the film debuted the next year the bursts of Rollins maverick tenor throughout were among its highlights.
Due to the paucity of music, a soundtrack album - then as now a useful marketing tie-in - was inconcieveable but Rollins record company of the day, Impulse, saw fit to cash in with an extended version of the melodies for the movie. A one day session under the baton of the brilliant arranger Oliver Nelson tied things up swiftly and resulted in a record which continues to delight Rollins fans.
As such, things are still pretty brief at just over half an hour as Nelson more or less treats the entire album as a suite, returning with echoes of previous themes throughout. The set nonetheless contains two acknowledged classic Rollins improvisations:
"Alfie's Theme" the jaunty hipsters anthem has a solo from Rollins which takes in everything from strident "outside" playing to the deepest of grooves, topped by a similarly inventive outing from pianist Roger Kellaway.
The ballad "He's Younger Than You Are" is the tenorist at his tenderest, coming and going without the faintest hint of anything saccharine, and must surely rank as one of Rollins finest 1960s recordings.
If there is any drawback to the album, they are the criminal underuse of the accompaying band. Kenny Burrell gets some space, but Phil Woods, J.J. Johnson and Jimmy Cleveland remain within their respective sections.
The final irony of this album is that "Malcolm Loves His Dad", written for the scene in which Michael Caine realises his young son regards another man as his father, was incorrectly credited to Rollins by Oliver Nelson, when in fact the theme had been worked out on the soundtrack sessions by Stan Tracey. Years later Tracey tried for a settlement but to no avail.
This album is best heard as part of Rollins entire body of work for Impulse, including the magnificent "On Impulse" and the abstract "East Broadway Rundown", which united him with Elvin Jones.