Monday, September 26, 2011

Some more Sonny Rollins news

From the blog post by critic Richard Scheinin of the San Jose Mercury News:

The festival is over. Sonny Rollins just played a two-hour set. He is 81 years old and an amazing man, an ORIGINAL man. He is the human bellows who baffles. He blows and blows and blows, saunters to the front of the stage with his tenor saxophone and honks, plays the blues, or holds REALLY long notes or imitates human speech with the craziest squiggles and smears. He never plays "Pent-up House" or "Dance of the Infidels," and he never will again. He plays obscure tunes that were on the radio when he was 10, or two-chord modal anthems, or funky little ditties that he wrote the other day.
His music tonight was largely about rhythm — he's got two drummers, a conguero and a trap drummer. And it was about his sound, cutting through that rhythm. He didn't pace the show well, sometimes wandered around playing riffs and bits of tunes, listening to his sidemen. It was odd, but it happens like this with Rollins. You hang in with him, watching and listening as he pursues his sound: massive and thick, carnivalesque, celebratory. He's an avant-garde populist; he should be leading a street parade.
And at the end of the two hours, that's what he was doing, in a way. He started playing "Don't Stop the Carnival" and the infectiousness of what he'd been pursuing all night kicked in. The crowd got on its feet and danced, cheering for Sonny as Sonny cheered for them with his saxophone. Monterey had ended.

By Scott Timberg, Special to the Los Angeles Times

About two weeks ago, he turned 81. That same day, he became just the fifth jazz musician in the last decade to win a Kennedy Center Honor. And this week, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins travels from his home in upstate New York to perform at UCLA's Royce Hall and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Makes you wonder: Doesn't he ever just say, I'm Sonny Rollins — I don't need to do this anymore?

"I am Sonny Rollins — right," he replies. "But I'm not the Sonny Rollins I want to be. I'm still trying to get a little further along the road of perfection, or salvation. I'm not there yet. I'm far enough away from that that I'm still engaged. Playing live is the only way."

Six decades into an acclaimed recording career, Rollins still doesn't like making records. He once compared playing live to genuine lovemaking while likening studio recording to cybersex.

"I do practice at home every day," he says. "But on the concert stage everything crystallizes. Performance is where it happens."

This attitude — that of a boxer raring to jump into the ring — is apparently paying off.

"He is at his peak," says jazz critic and author Gary Giddins. "When you see Sonny, he's really turned on. He is relentless when he's inspired. And sometimes when he is not inspired, he's relentless at trying to find something to inspire him. Suddenly he comes up with something, and the whole place roars."

All jazz — as Whitney Balliett famously dubbed it — is the sound of surprise. But Rollins may be the living player who builds cross sections of the creative process: His improvisations become journeys of discovery.

When he emerged in the early 1950s, the New York-reared saxophonist drew from the fluent bebop of Charlie Parker and the guttural tone of Coleman Hawkins: He became known for long, assertive solos that inverted, restated, seduced and sometimes jeered the song's melody. He recorded with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Clifford Brown, and became celebrated for "thematic improvisation" on his swaggering breakthrough album, "Saxophone Colossus."

Rollins followed that with other powerful recordings — "Way Out West," a trio recording for which he was photographed with a Stetson and holster, probing Village Vanguard sessions that suggested an avant-garde force and openness. Not long after, he retired. After practicing alone on the Brooklyn Bridge, he re-emerged, and his career has been marked since by fallow periods (he got lost for much of the '70s), odd retreats and sudden forward motion. He's remained a favorite of jazz fans and something of an enigma.

But in a genre marked by early deaths and drug casualties — his most potent rival in the '60s, John Coltrane, died at 40 — Rollins has always found his way back home. He was on a rich period again early in this century when his wife and manager, Lucille, died in 2004, and he was cast into another dark period.

Rollins, by all reports, bounced back, and his last two albums are both, appropriately, live dates. The latest, "Road Shows Vol. 2," which came out this month, captures an 80th birthday concert at New York's Beacon Theatre and includes encounters with lyrical, spacious guitarist Jim Hall — an old compatriot — and with alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, the free-jazz legend with whom Rollins had never before recorded.

The Sonny Rollins who comes to Westwood and Costa Mesa this week is returning to playing with an acoustic bass after a long period with the crisper sound of an electric bass player.

And even while trying to work more originals into his set, he's retained his fondness for overlooked standards — he calls Jerome Kern his favorite writer of melodies and says he's been fond lately of Schwartz and Dietz's "Haunted Heart," whose "moody" quality makes it hard to render. "You have to treat that song in a particular way," he says. "You have to approach 'her' with love and tenderness — and then she will show you her charms."

But with any jazz musician — especially one as stubbornly dedicated to his own muse as Rollins — you never know quite what you're going to get.

"I've never been the kind of musician who wants to play the same thing he played the night before," the saxophonist says of a stylistic restlessness that's won and lost him fans. "I've experienced some trouble with that."

>From show to show, he says, "It will change dramatically — based on my mood, the sound of the auditorium, the disposition of the band, whether I have a good reed."

Even after more than 60 years of playing live, some things remain mysterious — including the strange but coherent logic of his solos. "When I play, I try to get to a subliminal state — I go to a subconscious level.

"Things happen and I have no idea where they come from."

Oh and did anyone capture this interview with Mr. Rollins?

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