Recorded in New York City; March 22, 1956.
In 1956 Sonny Rollins used the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet (of which he was a member) as his sidemen for this Prestige set. The highpoints of this particularly strong hard bop set include "Valse Hot" (an early jazz waltz), a rapid rendition of "I Feel a Song Coming On" and Rollins's classic "Pent-Up House." Trumpeter Brown (heard on one of his final sessions) is in excellent form as is the strong rhythm section and the young tenor-leader himself. This excellent music is also included as part of Rollins's seven-CD box set for Prestige.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Any "B" student of modern jazz history could offer a nicely itemized list of reasons to reissue this album. For starters, it presents one of the three or four greatest hard-bop bands at the height of their powers; indeed, it has long held a favored spot among cognoscenti of the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet, not because it is flawless but because its peaks take the breath away. (In that sense, it mirrors the profile of the band itself, which had a weak link at piano but won converts because of the inestimable strengths at trumpet, tenor, and drums.) The album brought to the jazz repertoire two exquisitely inventive and quite durable new Rollins compositions, "Pent-Up House" and "Valse Hot." It also shows, as clearly as any other document, Rollins's emergence as an authoritative leader, able to take the reins of the band in which he served as a sideman and mold it to his own design.
And for a kicker, this March 22, 1956, session celebrates the last time that Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown would share a recording studio. (Brown's death - as a passenger in the auto accident that also killed pianist Richie Powell - came three months later, almost to the day.)
Underlying that entire list, though, is the confluence of time, space, and circumstance that brought Rollins and company to the studio in the first place. As with all noteworthy events, it involved a little luck. But luck is "the residue of design," to quote the pioneering baseball executive Branch Rickey; and Sonny Rollins, even while a member of the Brown-Roach Quintet, had never lost sight of his individual plan.
Luck had played a part when Rollins first joined the Quintet: in November 1955, he replaced Harold Land, the band's previous tenor player, who returned home to care for his ailing wife. The Quintet had just hit Chicago; by coincidence, Rollins was living in Chicago at that time, reassessing his lifestyle, working as a janitor and practicing extensively. He sat in with the Quintet at the legendary Bee Hive Club in Chicago's Hyde Park, and he fit immediately. In the summer of 2002, Rollins recalled: "When Harold had to go back to California, they hired me to keep the band going, as someone who was able to handle what had to be done."
What had to be done.
Even in hindsight, that's a remarkable understatement. Only 25, Rollins already displayed an extraordinary musical maturity. He had recognized not only the accomplishments of bebop but also its implications, exploring them to create improvisations more textured, thematically
unified, and rhythmically intrepid than those of his contemporaries. His solos brimmed with imagination and intellect, virtuosity and wit, all wrapped up in a startling, forceful tone, dry and pointed. And when he contrasted these qualities with romantic sentiment, he seemed to offer true joy-or pathos, or wonderment- rather than the learned response to those emotions that characterizes so much balladry.
Harold Land played beautifully, offering an airy, light-toned complement to Brown's trumpet, and he remained a respected improvisor for decades to come; but Rollins's arrival in 1955 engaged Brown on a deeper level, and boosted the group to an entirely new plateau. (By analogy, think of how the emergence of Roger Maris a few years later would help make Mickey Mantle a more focused slugger, and the already powerful Yankees a stronger team).
When the Brown-Roach Quintet headed for New York after the Bee Hive gig, several weeks before Christmas, it marked a homecoming for Rollins, who by then had been absent from his hometown for more than a year. "I was still recording under my own name, consequent to being with Max's group," he remembers, "and I guess I had a record date. So when I came into New York with these guys, it was convenient for me to use them. And in those days, records weren't as ubiquitous as they are now, so it wasn't a big deal for the guys to do it."
But, one wonders-wouldn't that tend to jeopardize the individuality of his music? Throughout the 50s, whenever a sideman stepped out on his own, he might borrow the band's rhythm section, or maybe the leader, but never both; it would sound too much like the original band itself. No worries about getting subsumed into the larger esthetic on your own date? "I can see in some cases that might be plausible," Rollins allows. "But I hadn't been there that long. And this is very important: we were playing together, and there was a certain good feeling-we were tight to a degree, so it was a comfortable date for everybody. It was just a good feeling all around."
Of even more importance, though - in terms of this session sounding a little different from other recordings by the same band-was the residue of Rollins's designs.
"You see, even though I was just a sideman with the Quintet... I was still having my own thoughts about my own group. So I always had material and so forth that I could have been doing with my own group; I think it's only one song on this album that we actually played in the main band. The other things were less relevant and less suited to the band than they were relevant and suited to me. So that was how the material for the album was formulated; it was my material, which I'd have wanted to do if I had led my own band."
Of this material, a couple of tunes still stand out in Rollins's mind today. His short, unsentimental version of "Count Your Blessings" stemmed from hearing it sung by Rosemary Clooney in the movie musical White Christmas: "I like standards, and I like Irving Berlin standards especially; I do have a fondness for his thing. I would say that this is one of the first of his tunes that I recorded...
The basic style is maybe in the style of how I approached some of these ballads at the time, but the particular rendition was probably not that different from things I do today. I wasn't too unhappy with it. I'm always unhappy about something on my recordings, but I wasn't unhappy with this attempt at recording that song. Even if I was unhappy with some of the results, I was satisfied with the whole concept of going after that song."
Rollins no longer remembers the details of composing the two originals found on this set; he does recall that "Pent-Up House" really belonged to the front line he formed with Clifford Brown. "As you know, I compose a lot, or try to compose a lot of the music I play. I may have composed it precisely for that date; I don't remember using it prior to that time. It's entirely possible that I conceived it as something good to play with Clifford." And lest there be any doubt about Rollins's devotion to the Quintet, even as his career as a leader began to take off, he now says:
"Considering the relationship I was starting to develop with Clifford, I would have been certainly happy to stay in the band -I think I was gaining enormous benefits from that relationship. I would have wanted to stay. I don't know whether they would have felt the same way -though in later years, people have remarked that the band had a change when I came in, so..." (His sentence drifts off, unlike the sudden punctuation to that relationship provided by Brown's death.)
Rollins's brief stay in the Quintet presaged a longer musical friendship with Max Roach, which would yield tremendous benefits on subsequent Rollins recordings; certainly, his burgeoning partnership with Brown supplied much of the brio for Sonny Rollins Plus 4. Where that partnership might have led is anyone's guess: Rollins stands hale and hearty today, at 72, still playing with extraordinary vigor-and Brown, in his youth, enjoyed a much cleaner lifestyle, leading to the tantalizing conclusion that he too might have entered old age with his artistic abilities intact.
Such conjecture may be ultimately fruitless. But hearing the music on this album makes it nonetheless inescapable.
notes for SACD reissue by Neil Tesser Host of "Miles Ahead," 1240 & 1470 AM in Chicago Author of The Playboy Guide To Jazz Jazz Critic, Chicago Reader
Re-mastered by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, Sebastopol, CA; August 2002
Slowly but surely, Sonny Rollins has started to get some of the recognition due him. His recordings, his appearances as a member of the Max Roach-Clifford Brown group, and, perhaps most importantly, the growing list of tenormen he is influencing, have all contributed to this new-found esteem.
Musicians have recognized Sonny as the important new reed voice; one who not only can swing but can also get inside the chords and "stretch out" on them.
When I read critics delivering praise to the young tenormen who, although they swing, never really get their teeth into more than a few chords in a row and invariably skim along the surface choosing the dullest portion of the chord, I scratch my head in wonder. The main irritant to me is not the opposition to Sonny or the praise of lesser musicians but the lack of understanding of the whole school of tenor playing. When there were only the Hawkins, Young, Berry, and Evans influences to ascertain, the critics' task was much simpler. Today's tenormen have been filtered through so many influences that sometimes their various styles seem to elude the critics' "hearing". It must have been Bird who confused them. They may acknowledge him because they would appear ridiculous if they didn't but they couldn't have had any real feeling for his music if they don't appreciate Sonny. This is not to say that Sonny has reached Bird's pinnacle but he has gotten Bird's message and captured the spirit of his music. But back to critics. One of them has labeled Sonny's style "hard bop" a not entirely inaccurate but too convenient labeling which suffers not so much from this labeling but from the manner said critic dumps anyone who plays even a Stittian, much less Rollins-like phrase, into this large cubbyhole he has built with his do-it-yourself kit.
In the table below I have attempt to illuminate the styles of some of the contemporary tenormen of this school: ones who are affiliated with it directly and other who are peripheral. A detailed explanation might entail a chapter in a book and I don't have the space, but there are interesting observations to be made. For instance, Dexter Gordon, who was one of John Coltrane's first influences when Gordon was playing in the Forties, is now influenced by the same man who has been a more recent factor in Coltrane's playing, Sonny Rollins.
I also would have liked to bring in more of Pres' disciples (Sims, Cohn] and their little brothers
(Perkins, Kamuca) but again space prevents me.
Through the courtesy of EmArcy, Clifford Brown and Max Roach appear here with Sonny and the two other regular members of Brown-Roach Inc., Richie Powell and George Morrow, are on hand too.
Valse Hot, Sonny's composition, is the first successful jazz waltz since Thelonious Monk interpreted Carolina Moon. Max, incidentally, was also the drummer on that one. There is an introductory interlude before the main melody and this is restated before each solo. Sonny and Brownie swing tenderly around the floor in turn, Richie has the third and Max fills out everyone's dance card with his solo.
Sam Coslow, who gave us My Old Flame among other fine songs, penned Kiss And Run. There's more "running" than kissing in Sonny's version. He and Brownie are fleet but not fleeting. These two musicians are perfect examples of how vital the Parker-Gillespie tradition is when played at its best. Richie Powell shows brother Bud's influence but remains his own man. After his solo, Sonny, Max and Brownie converse for a chorus and then Sonny and Brownie make it a two-way talk for one more.
Everyone keeps coming on and on in / Feel A Song Coming On. Max, who shows how to swing a soloist and never be monotonous, keeps things moving at a fantastic clip as the soloists cruise and cook at top speed.
Sonny delivers Count Your Blessings as a medium bounce rather than as a ballad with the help of an interlude by Richie Powell.
The most engaging Rollins original, Pent-Up House, has Brownie and Sonny playing pat-a-cake with the lead figures of the melody line. Brownie, who is in warm form throughout the entire proceedings, come in with George Morrow and Max strolling behind him for two choruses before Richie joins with his comping. Sonny picks up Brownie's tag line and strolls some himself in the same manner. Both hornmen are searching and heartfelt soloists in what is the high point of the set for me. After Richie finds a vein of Silver, Max mines a Roach gem and leads in the final statement.
original notes by Ira Gitler
Recorded in NYC, March 22, 1956