Recorded in New York on June 22 1956
This two-LP set finds Sonny Rollins entering his prime years and quickly developing into the most influential tenor-saxophonist in jazz (at least until John Coltrane fully emerged). Three selections from the Sonny Rollins Plus 4 session with Clifford Brown (which is highlighted by "Pent-Up House") and most of Sonny Rollins Plays for Bird (including a strong version of "Star Eyes") are here, but it is the inclusion of the entire Saxophone Colossus that makes this two-fer so highly recommended. One of his greatest sessions, all five numbers are classics: "Moritat" (which would serve as the basis for "Mack the Knife"), "Strode Rode," "You Don't Know What Love Is" and especialy the original versions of "Blue Seven" and "St. Thomas." With pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Max Roach giving him stimulating backup, Rollins is in brilliant form on this essential music, all of which is also included in his Prestige seven-CD box set. [A 20-bit remaster of Saxophone Colossus was released in October 1999.]
All Music Guide
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One of the Seven Wonders of the World was the Colossus of Rhodes, a bronze statue of Apollo, 100 feet high, which purportedly straddled the channel leading into the post at Rhodes. Erected about 280 B.C., it was felled by an earthquake in 224 B.C.
Sonny Rollins is unlikely to be toppled by an earthquake; he doesn't live on Rhodes (or in California). His contributions to jazz are of a nature that places them above destruction by earthquakes or any other natural phenomena. To the contrary, Sonny's playing has caused several noticeable movements on the seismograph of jazz in the past few years.
Of the five selections in this LP, three are originals by leader Rollins, one a ballad standard and the other a tune from a German musical play which became quite popular in the United States during 1956. Each of the five has its own distinctive flavor which makes the listening experience a varied one.
St. Thomas, named for one of the Virgin Islands is an ingratiating calypso melody that you will find yourself humming at unexpected moments. Sonny is one of the New York born jazzmen whose family lineage stems from the West Indies (Arthur Taylor, Mal Waldron, Kenny Drew, Cecil Payne and Ernie Henry are others) and he has heard this beat and type of melody from childhood. His solo is a delight in the way he phrases against, under and around the island rhythmic feeling. Max Roach shines in his featured spot, once again demonstrating his musical approach to the drums.
Chicago, the scene of Sonny's study period in 1955, is payed homage to in Strode Rode; the Strode Lounge is a local jazz room. The punching minor theme, accented by Max, leads directly into a kinetic solo by Sonny that begins with a passage of pianoless backing. The impeccable Tommy Flanagan is as fluid as ever and fiery in a more overt manner than usual. Sonny and Max exchange thoughts in a bristling conversation before Strode Rode rides out.
Doug Watkins and Max Roach set the solid, medium down groove for Blue 1, a minor blues of power with solos by all. Sonny has several statements of meaning separated by the others' solo efforts. Max's fantastic poly-rhythms and intelligent construction of ideas make his solo one of his best on record.
You Don't Know What Love Is is the ballad standard; one which has not been overdone as yet. Add Sonny's heartfelt version to those of Miles Davis and Dinah Washington as meaningful ones that come immediately to mind.
The German musical mentioned before is The Three Penny Opera and the song Moritat, or as it is popularly known, The Theme From The Three Penny Opera. Sonny shows how a jazzman can make something fresh and different out of material by his very approach and interpretation. When Louis Armstrong recorded it in a vocal and instrumental version, it quite naturally had a jazz feeling, but it was more directly in the realm of "entertainment". Sonny seems to feel it in a Pres vein as much of his phrasing indicates.
The use of the word colossus brings to mind its adjectival derivative colossal, a word which has had its share of buffeting about among Hollywood's celluloid hucksters in their press releases regarding many of the empty epics which pass across the screens of the nation. The dictionary says colossal is gigantic; huge; vast. When applied to Sonny Rollins' talent it also signifies depth.
- Ira Gitler