Thursday, November 25, 2004


Sonny Rollins' Our Man In Jazz is easily my favorite of his albums, a long-underrated disc that should be getting overdue acclaim any time now, thanks to a recent reissue (BMG International, but fairly easy to come by on Amazon and in finer stores). The band is Rollins on tenor sax, Don Cherry (fresh from Ornette Coleman's quartet) on cornet, Bob Cranshaw on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums, recorded live at the Village Gate in June 1962. (Henry Grimes replaced Cranshaw for three studio tracks from February 1963, which are now appended as bonuses on the reissue.)

The album opens with a 25-minute version of "Oleo" that pretty much dissolves the original in an acid bath. It makes Coltrane's "Chasin' The Trane" seem like the unhinged rant it was. (It's okay to admit it.) Not only does this "Oleo" have all the balls-out soloing anybody at that time or any point since ever want, it also retains swing and melody, which "Chasin' The Trane" abandons in favor of raw emotionalism.

The other two tracks on the original record are "Dearly Beloved," a ballad, and "Doxy." Not many people play "Doxy" anymore - it hasn't made it as far into the standard repertoire as other Rollins compositions, like "Oleo" and "Airegin." The only version I'm really familiar with is Branford Marsalis's, on Trio Jeepy. It's a nice tune, though, and this band really works it over.

Rollins works best without a piano. The one time I saw him live, a half-dozen years or more ago at Tramps, he had Stephen Scott on piano, who I like, and who took the best solo of the night. But it's when Rollins has to keep the chord changes in his head, instead of being reminded of them by some plunker, that he really goes on long-distance flights, none more than on Our Man In Jazz (and another underrated disc, East Broadway Run Down, which I also recommend).

I'm talking about this because I just got the two-volume Rollins Meets Cherry discs on Moon Records, long out of print but well worth the search. These are live tapes from Rollins' 1963 European tour with the Cherry-Grimes-Higgins band, and they're even more exploratory than Our Man In Jazz. I guess they were all more comfortable with each other, particularly the two horn players, who seem to have integrated their very different approaches better than they had the previous year. Grimes is fantastic, too, though, bowing the hell out of the bass like a cross between Paul Chambers (who doubtless influenced him) and William Parker (who'd follow in his wake, 20 years later). The recordings are high-quality, and very clear, unlike other Moon releases I've heard, and that's a damn good thing considering the extraordinary music they contain. If you can find all three of these discs, you'll really have something to be thankful for.

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