By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — One of the music world’s greatest losses came a couple of years ago with the news that the great Sonny Rollins was no longer going to be playing.
Rollins, jazz’s finest living soloist, had finally reached the point he no longer would be giving those remarkable powerhouse concerts featuring one of the music’s most immediately identifiable, soulful sounds on tenor and (periodically) soprano saxophone.
Fortunately, almost all his great music remains in print.
Plus outstanding new reissues are coming as well. The latest is a superb three-disc set “Go West: The Contemporary Records Albums” (Craft, also available in vinyl).
It covers a short (1 1/2 years) but magical period when the then 26 year old East Coast Master went to the West Coast on two occasions for recording sessions.
The two albums that resulted cemented, if indeed any questions remained by that time, his greatness as a soloist, and in particular his brilliance as one of the great melodic interpreters.
The two LPs reproduced in their entirety with the original artwork and liner notes are “Way Out West” and “Sonny Rollins and The Contemporary Leaders.”
The former is a pianoless trio format, a setting that often spurred some of Rollins’ most forceful solos. Backed by bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne (way out of his usual West Coast cool school playing mode), the three turned familiar western tunes into rigorous workouts. With no piano underneath, the slashing Rollins’ solos sounded even fuller and more assertive.
On the latter album, Rollins is paired with a super pianist in Hampton Hawes, plus other instrumental aces bassist Leroy Vinnegar, guitarist Barney Kessel, and Manne once more on drums. Victor Feldman puts in a stirring guest appearance on vibes for the song “You.”
The third Disc contains six alternate takes that for whatever reason were left off the original albums. They are interesting for those who feel every single note at a session should be heard.
Also, some of them to be honest sound as good as the take that was selected.
Nothing can compensate for the loss of Sonny Rollins on the jazz scene. But the magnificent musical performances collected on “Go West” are potent reminders of the greatness he routinely delivered throughout his incredible career.