Monday, October 21, 2013

Music Library: Sonny Rollins, Sonny Sharrock, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee

Sonny Rollins - Sonny Rollins With The Modern Jazz Quartet (1953), Sonny Rollins Plus 4 (1956), Tenor Madness (1956), Saxophone Colossus (1956), Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2 (1957), Freedom Suite (1958), Sonny Meets Hawk! (with Coleman Hawkins, 1963), Alfie (1966), G-Man (1986). What made Rollins such a giant of bop was not just his willingness to experiment but his innate gift of making it work. Modern Jazz Quartet is Rollins's first album as a bandleader and he sounds quite like himself right out of the gate. Plus 4, Tenor Madness, and Saxophone Colossus were all recorded and released a few months apart in 1956 and the progress Rollins makes between March, when the first one was recorded, and July, when Colossus was recorded, is amazing. Rollins starts out as a contender with Clifford Brown and Max Roach as sidemen on Plus 4, pushes aside Coltrane to command Miles Davis's Workin'/Relaxin'/etc. quintet on Madness, and emerges as a giant with Colossus, which is one of the finest bop albums out there. Vol. 2, from the next year, has Monk sitting in on piano on his own compositions, Horace Silver joining Monk on "Misterioso" and playing on most of the rest of the album, J.J. Johnson on trombone, and a rhythm section of Paul Chambers and Art Blakey. Nutso. It is amazing. Freedom Suite, which has Rollins in a trio setting, showcases how the man pushed against the strictures of bop.  Sonny Meets Hawk! is fun, but breaks no ground. Alfie, which is the soundtrack to the Michael Caine movie of the same name, experiments quite a bit with bop, although this time in the context of Swinging London 60s. G-Man, from 20 years later, shows that the man can still cook, with three of the four tracks stepping out past the ten-minute mark.

Sonny Sharrock - Black Woman (1969), Guitar (1986), Seize The Rainbow (1987), Live In DC (with Pharoah Sanders, 1993), and Space Ghost: Coast To Coast (1996). Sonny Sharrock was an anomaly, a jazz giant who made the free jazz of the late 60s even more chaotic with his loud, skronky electric guitar, a guy who truly came into his own with Last Exit in the 80s. (and a quick RIP for Last Exit drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, who just passed as of this writing). Sharrock played on albums by Pharoah Sanders and Miles's best album Jack Johnson, and he inspired more rock guys like Thurston Moore than jazz guys. Black Woman, the only album I have of Sharrock's from the early part of his career, is a powerful, raw album. Guitar and Seize The Rainbow are both powerful and beautifully weird. The Live in DC concert with Pharoah Sanders shows how well these two innovators worked together, trading licks and backing each other's leads with familiar ease that belies the power of the music. Finally, the Space Ghost EP showcases different takes and mixes on the awesomely half-atonal Space Ghost: Coast To Coast theme, released two years after Sharrock's untimely passing.

Sonny Stitt - Only The Blues (1957). One of the great bop saxophone sidemen, Stitt played with everyone, most notably Charlie Parker. This is a solid bop album, good but not great.

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee - Drinking In The Blues (1960). Harmonica and guitar from the folk-blues duo who came to prominence during the 60s folk revival. Good stuff. Here's Pete Seeger getting all polite up in this song.


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