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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sonny & Roy: a 50-year (almost) reunion

Just had to include the following NY Times review of Sonny Rollins'
epochal 50th Anniversary Carnegie Hall concert, especially
afterlearnign that it was almost 50 years since Sonny's played
with Roy Haynes.

A Reunion of Giants, 50 Years On
Sonny Rollins’s concert at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday
night was billed as the 50th anniversary of his first
performance there. More significant, it was the first
time since 1958 — nearly a 50th anniversary — that
he’s played with Roy Haynes. The greatest living tenor
saxophone player, teamed again with arguably the
greatest living drummer — now that’s historic.

The concert’s first half, when the two were joined by
the young bassist Christian McBride, lived up to the
fanfare, in unexpected ways. The high points of Mr.
Rollins’s concerts are usually the extended solos:
sinuous improvisations, going on for dozens of
choruses, no two alike, in which he explores every
chord, theme or counterpoint a song seems to offer,
then taps some uncharted crevice and digs or soars on
to blow more. This set wasn’t like that. Perhaps
because he was playing with peers (a rarity in recent
decades), he held back, simmered where he usually
boiled, and played as one of three equals.

The unlikely highlight was “Some Enchanted Evening,”
which Mr. Rollins opened by reciting the melody with
his lush and husky tone, while Mr. Haynes flapped
brushes in triple time, and Mr. McBride plucked whole
notes that anchored the chords without confining his
band mates. When they got to the part where most
musicians take solos, Mr. Rollins instead tossed out a
fragment of the melody, then Mr. Haynes filled in the
rest, and on the interplay went, bar after bar, the
two sometimes overlapping, sometimes not.

It felt like an ambling, elegant conversation between
old friends, which in fact it was. It set off a
goose-bump sensation, a shared intimacy one rarely
encounters in a jazz concert. And the full house gave
it the night’s lustiest applause.

For the set’s closer, “Mack the Knife,” Mr. Rollins
drew on a gruffer tone, full of fleet triplets and
arpeggios, but Mr. McBride took the star turn with a
solo that possessed a horn’s articulate fluency and a
master’s insouciant assurance, despite the age gap
that might have marked him as an apprentice. (He’s 35,
while Mr. Rollins is 77 and Mr. Haynes is —
unbelievably — 82.)

After intermission Mr. Rollins brought out his regular
sextet, which includes electric guitar, electric bass,
trombone, drums and congas (but, alas, no Mr. Haynes
or Mr. McBride). This is a band whose function is to
support the leader, and it performs that task
adequately. But Carnegie Hall’s acoustics, often
troublesome with amplified music, muddied the works,
and Mr. Rollins’s notes were often buried in the mix.
The engineers turned up the volume when Clifton
Anderson’s trombone started out too low, but didn’t
extend the courtesy to the headliner.

Mr. Rollins never broke through the stratosphere.
Still, he played with customary verve, especially
during the two calypsos, when he strutted to the front
of the stage, thrusting his horn to the rhythm while
ripping through the scales, finally uncorking a stream
of thunderous low notes like a foghorn guiding the
way. He does this at the end of nearly all his
concerts, and it never fails to delight.

1 comment:

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