With all due respect to the other important tenor saxophonists of the 1950s, Theodore Walter "Sonny" Rollins was the tenor of those times. During the Eisenhower era, Rollins (b. 1930) forged a string of albums that can stand with the sustained work of any major improviser on any instrument. In particular, his recordings for several independent jazz labels, beginning with 1954's Work Time
(on Prestige, his most frequent recording affiliation during this period) and culminating with 1958's Sonny Rollins Meets the Contemporary Leaders
(originally on the Los Angeles-based Contemporary Records and included herein, it directly preceded his much-discussed two-year sabbatical from public performance), chart his ascendance to greatness.
The 58 selections on these five discs were done between December 1956 and October 1958, an especially fruitful time in Rollins's creative life. That we were witnessing his first golden age was substantiated in a 1996 Village Voice poll of 23 prominent jazz critics, who were asked to select their five favorite Rollins albums. Four of the collective top five were from '56 to '58 and two, Way Out West and Freedom Suite, containing the tenorist's first long-form composition, are part of this package.
Here is the musician sometimes known as "Saxophone Colossus," in studios on both coasts and in consistently, commensurately brilliant company, including Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, Kenny Dorham, Sonny Clark, Clark Terry, Abbey Lincoln, and Ray Brown. All the elements of Rollins's style--the muscular tone and flashing wit, the harmonic acumen and untethered rhythmic sense, the encyclopedic knowledge of popular songs and unaccompanied solos--are here, fully formed.
JazzTimes - 6/00, pp.99-100
"...Never less than excellent and often great....Rollins is in great from here, utterly relaxed....don't bother to buy any contemporary tenor sax releases until you have [this]..."
Mojo (Publisher) - 10/00, p.106
"...This was as fertile a 2 years as any jazz man ever had....he is belligerently melodic, swaggeringly rhythmic, witty and profound..."
This box set contains tracks recorded by or featuring Sonny Rollins while recording for Riverside & Contemporary Records between 1956 & 1958.
Personnel: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Abbey Lincoln (vocals); Ernie Henry (alto saxophone); Clark Terry, Kenny Dorham (trumpet); Jimmy Cleveland (trombone); Victor Feldman (vibraphone); Thelonious Monk (piano, celeste); Sonny Clark, Hank Jones, Wynton Kelly, Gil Coggins, Hampton Hawes (piano); Barney Kessel (guitar); Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Oscar Pettiford, Percy Heath, Wendall Marshall, Leroy Vinnegar (bass); Max Roach (drums, tympani); Shelly Manne, Roy Haynes, Kenny Dennis (drums).
Producers: Orrin Keepnews, Lester Koenig, Leonard Feather.
Compilation producer: Eric Miller.
Engineers include: Jack Higgins, Sam Morse, Roy DuNann.
Recorded at Reeves Sound Studios, New York, New York between December 1956 and October 28, 1957; WOR Recording Studios, New York, New York in February 1958; Contemporary's Studio, Los Angeles, California on March 7, 1957 and from October 20-22, 1958; Beltone Studios, New York, New York on November 4, 1957. Includes liner notes by Zan Stewart.
Digitally remastered by Kirk Felton (2000, Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California).
Personnel: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Abbey Lincoln (vocals); Barney Kessel (guitar); Ernie Henry (alto saxophone); Clark Terry, Kenny Dorham (trumpet); Jimmy Cleveland (trombone); Thelonious Monk (piano, celesta); Gil Coggins, Hampton Hawes, Hank Jones (piano); Victor Feldman (vibraphone); Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Kenny Dennis (drums).
Recording information: 12/17/1956-10/22/1958.
This beautifully crafted set encompasses a vital and fruitful period in the career of Sonny Rollins. Gathering the sessions for both Riverside and Contemporary Records between 1956 and 1958, this five-disc box is chock-full of the magic that has made Rollins the legendary icon he is. Not only are the saxophonist's essential records WAY OUT WEST, THE SOUND OF SONNY, SONNY ROLLINS PLAYS, FREEDOM SUITE, and SONNY ROLLINS AND THE CONTEMPORARY LEADERS included, but classic sessions led by Thelonious Monk, Kenny Dorham, and Abbey Lincoln are also here.
Together these discs show Rollins as a magnificent soloist who had his style fully developed while John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter were still in finishing school. The included booklet contains a thoughtfully written essay on Rollins during this period and a priceless collection of photographs of the legendary participants herein. Even if you only dimly consider yourself a Sonny Rollins fan, these recordings should be in your collection.