[JPL] JAZZ REVIEW Live: Sonny Rollins A night of devil-may-care improv from the tenor sax icon.

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Thu Apr 10 14:27:29 EDT 2008

Live: Sonny Rollins
A night of devil-may-care improv from the tenor sax icon.
By Don Heckman
Special to The Times

April 7, 2008

Sonny Rollins has reached what the French would call his ³Troisieme((accent
first e)) Age² in impressive fashion.  The veteran tenor saxophone player,
at 77 one of the jazz world¹s few remaining, undisputedly iconic figures of
the post bebop era, is investing his later years with a devil-may-care
improvisational adventurousness.
   Arriving on stage at the Cerritos Center Saturday night, Rollins,
apparently suffering from arthritic problems, walked stiffly, at times with
seeming discomfort.  But he held out his shiny horn with indisputable
magisterial control.  Wasting no time on announcements, acknowledgements or
even counting off the rhythm, he simply began to play, setting the time with
his own crisp articulation, directing the responses of his quintet ­
trombonist Clifton Anderson((cq)), guitarist Bobby Broom bassist Bob
Cranshaw, drummer Kobie Watkins and percussionist Kimati Dinizulu -- with
expressive body movements and gestures.
   The first tune, title unannounced, lasted nearly twenty minutes. The
second, a similarly unidentified ballad, lasted nearly that long.  But each
unfolded in unique fashion, shaped by Rollins¹ spontaneous musical desires
of the moment.  As the program proceeded, he became more mobile,
occasionally approaching the edge of the stage to direct his notes at one
particular segment of the room or another.
   Rollins¹ soloing -- which ranged from long, extended inventions to duet
interactions with other players, as well as brief directive passages to move
the collective ensemble sounds forward ­ was the stuff of artistic maturity.
Unlike the reductive methods of, say, late Picasso drawings, with their
diminution of grand ideas to minimalist lines, Rollins¹ playing often
reached into startlingly expansive exploration.  Although he tended, in the
playing he did in the envelope-stretching Œ60s, to remain tonally and
thematically oriented, his current soloing ­ at least in this particular
event ­ revealed an expanded vision that enthusiastically embraced the free
flying methods more closely associated with John Coltrane and Ornette
    It was an augmentation that often worked in fascinating fashion.
Rollins¹ playing on one of his characteristically exuberant Caribbean-style
pieces, for example, was enhanced by the juxtaposition of buoyant melodic
fragments with sudden dashes of bright, explosive, Jackson Pollack-like
musical colors.  
   But there were problems, as well.  Rollins¹ move into the
Coltrane/Coleman universe sometimes seemed unexpectedly reductive,
especially when its impact was diminished by his surprisingly blurry
fingering.  His tenor saxophone sound ­ once one of the most virile
expressions in jazz ­ also has lost some of its penetrating intensity.  And
he appeared, at times, more willing to reach for crowd-pleasing repetitions
than he may have in earlier years.
   The upside was that the flaws were usually the product of Rollins¹
determined effort to widen the range of his improvisational vision.  And the
ultimate result was a compelling display of still-vital musical artistry.


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