Sonny Rollins Go West! – The Contemporary Records Albums – Craft Recordings

by | Jun 30, 2023 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

This is a terrific vinyl boxed set of a legendary jazz saxophonist.

Sonny Rollins Go West! – The Contemporary Records Albums – Contemporary Records (1957-1958)/Craft Recordings CR00434 [6/23/2023] Deluxe 180-gram 3 LP Boxed Set, including a full-sized 32-page booklet, *****:

(Sonny Rollins – tenor saxophone; Leroy Vinnegar – double bass; Shelly Manne – drums; Ray Brown – double bass; Barney Kessel – guitar; Hampton Hawes – piano; Victor Feldman – vibraphone)

New York City native Sonny Rollins matriculated  into a competitive local jazz scene. Inspired by Louis Jordan to play saxophone, he became a high-profile tenor player by his early 20’s. His early sessions with Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and The Modern Jazz Quartet put him in the spotlight. After moving to Chicago, he joined the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, further enhancing his resume. Rollins’ innovative style featured playing bop in 3/4 time with calypso accents and theme improvisation. By the late 1950’s Rollins had emerged as a trend-setting solo artist. On his iconic Way Out West, “Newk” created a sound in a trio format with a double bassist and drummer.

Craft Recordings has released a lavish re-mastered 180-gram boxed set, Sonny RollinsGo West! The Contemporary Records Albums. Included are the re-mastered studio albums, Way Out West, Sonny Rollins And The Contemporary Leaders and a third vinyl of alternative takes. This represents Rollins’ studio output for Lester Koenig’s West Coast label, Contemporary Records in 1957 and 1958. Way Out West kicks off with the loping “cowboy” tune, “I’m An Old Cowhand” by Johnny Mercer. With Ray Brown and Shelly Manne, this trio transforms a corny pop tune into a fresh jazz statement. Rollins’ glides into the fluid rhythm, injecting moments of improvisational gravitas. Brown’s walking bass also includes a lithe solo. Manne follows with one of his trademark polyrhythmic runs. Rollins returns to the first verse with smoothness as a counterpoint to Manne’s “clip-clop” percussion. In a definitive mood shift, the trio takes on Duke Ellington’s iconic “Solitude”. Rollins, in subtle vibrato mode embraces the essence of this ballad with Brown and Manne delicately surrounding the saxophone lead. Picking up the pace, an original (“Come, Gone”) feels like straight-ahead jazz with edgier tonality, improvisation and swing dynamics. The unprecedented trio structure is compelling. Side Two opens with another vintage Western number, “Wagon Wheels”. Rollins and the rhythm section distill the original melody, but Rollins adds a bluesy perspective. Again, the Manne percussion adds texture, and Brown is a formidable instrumental counterpoint. Shifting to late night vibe, “There’s No Greater Love” (a jazz standard by Isham Jones) emerges as an atmospheric piece with Rollins executing several deft runs. The title cut is a worthy finale. There is a finger-snapping tempo and Brown’s buoyant lines are graceful, driving the trio. Rollins’ phrasing and timing are flawless.

The second vinyl (Sonny Rollins And The Contemporary Leaders) retains Manne, but has a different group (Barney Kessel/guitar; Leroy Vinnegar/double bass; Hampton Hawes/piano and Victor Feldman/vibraphone). The result is a more traditional approach. The initial cut, “I’ve Told Every Little Star” is a medium swing jam. This embrace of swing is the nucleus of this album. The addition of Kessel, Hawes and Feldman help to create a cohesive structure, and Vinnegar fits in perfectly. Another pop ditty, “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” is more up tempo. Rollins’ deft notation is festive and glows with warmth. Kernel and Hawes offer articulate low-keyed runs. “How High The Moon” showcases Rollins and the quintet adapting popular music to jazz metrics. Vinnegar and Kessel are a formidable duo and play together seamlessly. The side’s last number (“You”) is reinvented as raucous blues/swing. Rollins’ is magnetic and Feldman percolates on the vibraphone. 

This session has more than its share of swagger. Rollins and company are propulsive on “I’ve Found A New Baby”. The muscular saxophone is the man focal point on this 3:50 gem. Hawes delivers an extended jaunty piano intro to “Alone Together”. Kessel follows with a nimble active solo. At approximately the 2:20 mark, Rollins enters and infuses crispness before Vinnegar scampers on double bass. All of the arrangements are meticulous. Rollins and Kessel create a lyrical counterpoint. Most people associate “In The Chapel In The Moonlight” with crooner Dean Martin. Here, it is a relaxed jazzy performance with  gossamer lower register on saxophone. Picking up the pace, “The Song Is You” returns to the swing genre. Like many jazz reincarnations, this Rodgers/Hammerstein Broadway song was relatively obscure, but these types of covers altered the stylistic trajectory. Both Rollins and Hawes are explosive on this one, and Manne’s drum fills are inspiring. The final vinyl has six alternative takes from both albums. The listener can gain insight into the creative process with these interesting versions.

Album Cover for SonnyRollins_GoWest_CDBoxSet Sonny Rollins Go West!The Contemporary Records Albums vinyl boxed set (also available as a 3-CD set) is another great achievement for Craft Recordings. In addition to the 180-gram vinyls, there is an expanded booklet by historian Ashley Kahn, including a 2021 interview with Rollins. The re-mastered mix by Bernie Grundman is excellent. The stereo separation is impeccable (additional kudos to original engineer Roy DuNann) and the packaging is top-notch.

—Robbie Gerson


Sonny Rollins Go West! – The Contemporary Records Albums

Disc One: Way Out West
Side One: I’m An Old Cowhand; Solitude; Cone, Gone
Side Two: Wagon Wheels; There Is No Greater Love; Way Out West

Disc Two: Sonny Rollins And The Contemporary Leaders
Side One: I’ve Told Every Little Star; Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody; How High The Moon; You
Side Two: I’ve Found A New Baby; Alone Together; In The Chapel In The Moonlight; The Song Is You

Disc Three: Contemporary Alternate Takes
Side One: I’m An Old Cowhand; Come, Gone
Side Two: Way Out West; The Song Is You; You; I’ve Found A New Baby. 

More information through Craft Recordings

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Album Cover for Sonny Rollins Go West


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