(Sonny Rollins, tenor sax; John Coltrane, tenor sax (#1 only); Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums)
Sonny Rollins’ Tenor Madness is famous for, among other things, featuring the only recorded encounter between Rollins and John Coltrane. This encounter, on the title track, is most fascinating because it is in no way a battle of the saxes meeting. The two men compliment each other nicely to the point where it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart. Sure, Coltrane sounds boisterous at the beginning of the track, while Rollins sounds smooth and bluesy, but both men are legendary for their lyricism, and when they trade eight bars in the middle of the song, the melody is played like a friendly game of hot potato (or more accurately, comfortably warm potato).
But Tenor Madness is Rollins’ show. On When Your Lover Has Gone, Rollins is endlessly inventive, playing sad lines, slow lines, swinging lines, and gentle lines, all of them sounding almost impossibly organic to the track. Red Garland’s piano on the track reminds one of Bud Powell’s wonderfully delicate touch, though I’m not sure I’m qualified enough to make a true comparison. Paul’s Pal has a wonderfully simple and jaunty melody that Rollins explores in all its permutations. At one point, Rollins dips into the lowest register of his tenor to play a syrupy, baritone-sounding line. Paul Chambers, who the track is named for, wonderfully anchors the song’s swing, and even more extraordinarily, always seems to intuit Rollins next move.
On My Reverie, Rollins plays the kind of breathy, wet-reed lines that remind me of Coltrane on Lush Life. As usual, these lines have a wonderful way of seeming to have always been part of the song; it always amazes me the way Rollins can so often fit his solos within the beat, causing very little to spill over and bring attention to itself.
One of the most thrilling things about the album, outside of the quintet’s playing, is the way Rudy Van Gelder has retained so much of the warmth of the original analog recording on a compact disc. Since his original masters were made for vinyl, the texture of the sound was of key importance, and, thankfully, very little of this texture is “cleaned up” for the digital remaster. So while the SACD is probably the closest you’ll get to the original sound, this remaster goes a long way in restoring to Tenor Madness its mood and warmth.
Tracklist: Tenor Madness, When Your Lover Has Gone, Paul’s Pal, My Reverie, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.
– Dan Krow