Sonny Rollins – Road Shows, Vol. 1 – Emarcy/ Doxy 80012165-02 – 1980-2007 – 71:3 *****:

(Sonny Rollins – tenor sax; with supporting musicians including Clifton Anderson – trombone; Mark Soskin & Stephen Scott – piano; Bobby Broom – guitar; Jerome Harris, Bob Cranshaw, Christian McBride – bass; Al Foster, Victor Lewis, Roy Haynes – drums)

It is quite an opportunity to be able to listen to a single compilation CD from the mid to late career period of the great Sonny Rollins. Covering a 27 year period from 1980 to 2007, what makes Road Shows, Vol. 1 (evidently there will be several more?), an even more a valuable acquisition is the fact that the seven tracks on the disc are from either Sonny’s personal archives (many given to him by collector Carl Smith) or from soundboard tapings. The track selections culminate in Sonny’s 50th Anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall in 2007, where he performed the ballad, Some Enchanted Evening, backed solely by bassist Christian McBride and drummer, Roy Haynes.

The first five tracks were recorded while he was under contract to Milestone Records, and  on the earliest date, from Sweden in 1980, Rollins performs Blossom – a previously unrecorded original. Only the last two compositions were recorded in North America, whereas the previous five numbers range from Japan, Poland, France, and Sweden. Sonny has always been an exacting artist and very self critical of his work. The fact that he personally selected the tracks presented here testifies to the fact that they include his best live work. Rollins’ tenor playing can range from the sublime lyrical to bordering on the avant-garde. What stands out to the listener, however, is the intensity that Rollins brings to his instrument, whether it be on a ballad, calypso, or a blistering extended solo tenor workout.

The opening, Best Wishes, is an extended 12-bar blues, which Sonny plays throughout the tenor’s range, and it is a knockout performance. Following is the ballad, More Than You Know, which Rollins first played with Monk back in the mid-50s. Here in France, in 2006, Rollins pushes the ballad into new territory backed by Clifton Anderson’s counterpoint and a great solo by guitarist Bobby Broom. The previous unrecorded Blossom is next and is a revelation. Driven by a Latin beat provided by pianist Soskin and bassist Jerome Harris, Rollins takes a near eight minute solo.

A 1980 concert in Poland provides Easy Living and the Warsaw audience gets a thrill, as Rollins’ intensity on this 1937 composition is stunning. Pianist Soskin also has a great two-chorus solo. One of Sonny’s most famous compositions, Tenor Madness, recorded in Japan in 2000, is next and spans 30 choruses in less than eight minutes. Wow!

Closing our “road show” with Sonny is the calypso, Nice Lady, and the trio reading of Some Enchanting Evening. On Nice Lady, Rollins is ably backed by trombonist, Anderson. It is lighter fare but still swings in a lilting Caribbean fashion. Some Enchanting Evening from the 2007 Carnegie Hall Rollins’ tribute is gorgeous, and an opportunity for Christian McBride and the legendary Roy Haynes to blend with Sonny on the Rogers and Hammerstein South Pacific aria. It is a fitting closure to some of the best live material that can be found from the tenor genius. This CD, with excellent mastering by Mark Wilder, belongs in the collection of every Rollins fan!

TrackList: Best Wishes, More Than You Know, Blossom, Easy Living, Tenor Madness, Nice Lady, Some Enchanted Evening

– Jeff Krow