Personnel: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); John Coltrane (tenor saxophone); Clifford Brown , Kenny Dorham (trumpet); Elmo Hope, John G. Lewis, Kenny Drew, Ray Bryant, Red Garland, Thelonious Monk, Tommy Flanagan (piano); Milt Jackson (vibraphone); Doug Watkins, George Morrow , Paul Chambers, Percy Heath, Tommy Potter (bass guitar); Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, Art Taylor (drums).
Audio Remasterer: Joe Tarantino.
Liner Note Author: Nat Hentoff.
Recording information: Van Gelder Studios, Hackensack, NJ (12/07/1951-06/22/1956).
Photographer: Jim Marshall .
This budget compilation was originally released on double LP in 1972, as part of a series of compilations by Prestige in the 1970s. It was issued during Sonny Rollins' second period of self-imposed exile. The first occurred between 1959 and 1962, when Rollins recorded a dizzying number of sets under his own name, and as a featured guest with other notables. The latter retirement was between 1966-1972, after East Broadway Run Down for Impulse! and Next Album for Milestone. The 13 tunes collected here are completely remastered by Joe Tarantino. They were recorded between 1951 and 1956, and are not collected in chronological order. They feature Rollins in the roles of leader and collaborator in the presence of some of the greatest performers in the history of the music. "Tenor Madness" with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones is here (Sonny with all but the leader of the Miles Davis group at the time) from 1956, but so are three tracks from his debut as a leader in 1951, accompanied by Percy Heath, Kenny Drew, and Art Blakey. Rollins' one appearance with the Thelonious Monk Quartet is represented here, and rightfully so, by "The Way You Look Tonight," with a gorgeous head and lead by Sonny. His tone -- even at this early stage of the game -- was fully developed, and given that he was playing a standard, Monk plays it straighter by far as well. Elsewhere there are tracks from the saxophonist with the Modern Jazz Quartet from 1953 ("No Moe"), a pair with the Max Roach band with Clifford Brown ("Valse Hot" and "Count Your Blessings"), with Kenny Dorham in 1954 ("Solid"), with Elmo Hope, and with Kenny Drew as well. This is a fine early representation of what Rollins was up to at the very beginning, and cuts off just before the Contemporary Records period -- whose catalog Concord also owns now. Other than a multi-label box set that includes much of the '70s and '80s material, Rollins' mighty achievement as a young gun can be viewed as only a tiny part of the story. While to get a truly honest picture one would have to listen to everything -- the compilations of Rollins with Jim Hall on RCA's Bluebird imprint, the Milestone recordings (a label he has been with since 1972 and a part of the Prestige family), and his Impulse! recordings -- this is a truly wonderful start, and these sides are of such quality musically that no matter how long one has been listening to Rollins, they are a delight to hear in this context. This compilation now on compact disc by Concord is part of a series called The Architects of Jazz, and one can only hope that the new owners of the Prestige legacy will dig into their vaults for never-before-released-on-CD volumes by everyone from Jack McDuff (there couldn't be a better time than right now for him) to Sahib Shihab, as well as putting these overviews out there. ~ Thom Jurek