Sonny Rollins – Dancing in the Dark (1988)
Excepting one egregious attempt at reggae-cum-jazz pop (“I’ll String Along With You,” which at least features some nice counterpoint between Rollins and Clifton Anderson), this one’s solid – at almost 60, Rollins could still deliver an enticing product because his improvisational chops didn’t diminish; nor his belief in capital-R romance (as seen in the title). As for the other shorter ones, there’s an attack in his notes (ie. at the 1:40 mark, and in the climax) of “Just Once” that’s at odds with the tone of the rest of the song, but when he hits that note at 1:28, I forgive him for any wrong-doing; the choruses of the calypso “Duke of Iron” are exuberant; Mark Soskin’s piano solo elevates “O.T.Y.O.G.” (and takes up nearly half the song’s runtime). “Promise” sees the band undergoing several tempo changes; “Allison” has Jerome Harris laying down a lovely foundation for the rest of the band; the title track opens with the best solo on the record (love the way Rollins hammers the same note over and over, switches to a new one, slows down, speeds up, and ascends, introducing the rest of the band). Again: solid, not that anyone cares.
Sonny Rollins – Global Warming (1998)
Not a lot to say about this record, but the comfort is that anything I do say will be more than a lot of what’s been said: to a lot of people, Rollins may as well have died in the late 60s, if they even bothered past Saxophone Colossus.
Anyway, this is more of Rollins’ late-period work, where there’s the occasional odd attack in Rollins playing (notably in his solos on “Island Lady” and “Change Partners”), but overall, couched in romance and comfort (ignore the title and Rollins’ statement that this is his new Freedom Suite). And it makes for a listen that’s ultimately comfortable with the occasional reminder that you’re in the presence of a God that loves him some calypso.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the key player here, is, ha, the key player: Stephen Scott (previously from Sonny Rollins + 3) contributes solos that beg for attention. Take, for example, “Island Lady,” where he rains arpeggi before the delightful chorus comes back in and Stott practically struts around in the sunlight the band created afterwards. Elsewhere, check out “Change Partners,” where his left hand chords bounce uncontrollably into the right hand’s melody, or the combined thunder between him and Perry Wilsons on “Clear-Cut Boogie.”
But despite every song being good, this one has a notable problem of the pop gloss over everything. Choruses in both “Island Lady” and the calypso “Global Warming” are given as much time/emphasis as the solos, rendering initially catchy ones annoying over time; “Echo-Side Blue” speeds up in places, as if Rollins doesn’t trust his listeners to follow him and Stott down the promenade in waltz-time.
So yeah, approach with caution, but do approach.