Sonny Rollins Quartet – Tenor Madness (1956) – Prestige /Analogue Productions

by | Jul 26, 2014 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Sonny Rollins Quartet – Tenor Madness (1956) – Prestige /Analogue Productions mono SACD CPRJ 7047 SA, 35:24 ****1/2: 

(Sonny Rollins – tenor saxophone; Red Garland – piano; “Philly” Joe Jones – drums; John Coltrane – tenor saxophone; Paul Chambers – bass)

There have been several monumental periods in jazz recordings, and the mid-1950s marked a crossroads in the annals of jazz history. This was the proliferation of hard bop, pioneered by Art Blakey and Horace Silver in the Jazz Messengers. Incorporating gospel and some r&b influences, the movement seemed to be a reaction to Cool Jazz (a “gimmick” according to some purists) and the asymmetrical phrasing of bebop. Albums by Art Blakey (A Night At Birdland Vol.1-3), Miles Davis (Walkin’), and Horace Silver (Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers) ushered in a new era. Players like Jimmy Smith, Dexter Gordon, Donald Byrd, Benny Golson, Freddie Hubbard, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Joe Henderson, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan Johnny Griffin and Jackie McLean (and many, many others) rose to prominence.

Among these landmark recordings was Sonny Rollins’ Colossus. Like many saxophonists, Rollins was trying to step out of the formidable shadows of bebop legends like Coleman Hawkins. Rollins formed a bond with Miles Davis, and started recording with him in 1951. Despite being part of the lineup at the Newport Jazz Festival, circumstances prevented Rollins from being a permanent member of the first Miles Davis Quintet. But destiny found its way into jazz lore. The quintet (or quartet without Davis consisting of John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and “Philly” Joe Jones) was in New York for a layover and did a session with Rollins. The result was Tenor Madness.

Analogue Products has released a SACD of the 1956 album. Featuring the only collaboration in studio by two of the greatest tenor saxophonists of all time, the album does not disappoint. On the title track (12 minutes), Coltrane starts off with a furious solo. He injects edginess and verve. Rollins follows with soulful fluency and superb depth. It seems like the two are motivating each other, not competing. Garland and Chambers contribute solos, and Jones amazes with his customary drum fills. The juxtaposition of Coltrane’s attacking style and Rollins’ virtuosic fluidity is compelling. The musical flow is intriguing for all 12+ minutes. “When Your Lover Has Gone” slows the tempo, but keeps a subtle finger-snapping groove. Rollins’ artistic shading is framed perfectly by the rhythm section (and in particular the Garland/Jones cadence shift in the last chorus). At the 2:30 mark, Garland showcases his dexterity on a nimble, understated solo.

Returning to a steady pulse, “Paul’s Pal” offers the band a chance to shine individually. Throughout the album, Rollins is generous with his band mates. On “My Reverie”, Rollins is nothing short of eloquent in his vibrato-laced runs. Garland’s steady Basie-like piano anchors the group. The Rodgers/Hart standard, “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” (from the musical Jumbo) is transformed by a creative arrangement. Starting with a quiet waltz-time signature, the quintet morphs into 4/4 swing time. It is the embodiment of hard bop, with both Rollins and Coltrane cutting loose. Paul Chambers offers one of his patented bowed solos on double bass, and Jones nails a dynamic drum solo. Everything is clicking on this track.

The sound quality of the SACD is exemplary. The essence of each saxophonist’s tonality is captured, Rollins’ warmth and texture is rich and mellifluous. Coltrane’s piercing quality is crisp, not shrill. The overall re-mastering delivers a vibrant, contemporary sound to the recording. The mini-gatefold packaging and Ira Gitler liner notes provide the necessary historical context. Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane would eventually record a number of definitive albums. Tenor Madness provided a glimpse into their futures.

TrackList: Tenor Madness; When Your Lover Has Gone; Paul’s Pal; My Reverie; The Most Beautiful Girl In The World

—Robbie Gerson

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