Sonny Rollins – Solo Album (1985)
I was going to find a
good funny review of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and swap out the words to fit this one since that’s the obvious comparison – this one has also garnered some ardent defenders. (Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon also sprang to mind since it was released that same year, but there’s undeniable and actual effort put into this one and the live audience cheering throughout suggests it’s not meant to be taken as background music.) But I don’t think that or this is worth my time; for those who don’t know, Sonny Rollins solos for 56 minutes non-stop with nothing prepared and no one else helping out. Which doesn’t sound appealing at all: it’s no coincidence that he’s worked with many a great musician to make great music (Bob Cranshaw, Max Roach, Red Garland, Jack DeJohnette, to name a few), and for anyone curious of the improvisational ability of one of the greatest saxophonists of all time (even if he didn’t inspire rock music like Coltrane or Coleman did), one need only take the time to listen to 3 minutes of any of his many albums – take your pick, he had many to choose from.
Sonny Rollins – Falling in Love With Jazz (1990)
Better than Dancing in the Dark because there are no duds this time around, and more importantly, because Jack DeJohnette (a.k.a. God #2; guess who’s the first) replaces Marvin Smith on drums. That being said, he does split drum duty with Jeff Watts for “For All We Know” and “I Should Care” (with neither of them on “Little Girl Blue”), and the difference is noticeable, to say the least. I empathetically disagree with All Music’s Scott Yanow review that criticizes Brandon Marsalis’ contributions to the album, “Unfortunately Marsalis makes the fatal error of trying to imitate Rollins (instead of playing in his own musical personality) and he gets slaughtered.” I don’t think that was the intention at all, rather, simply providing some lovely counterpoint to Sonny Rollins’ phrases in both “For All We Know” and “I Should Care” (it’s not like he’s soloing and attempting to imitate Rollins). Elsewhere, you won’t notice that either Jerome Harris or Bob Cranshaw are on electric bass thanks to the engineering until the closer, the only track on the proper album that’s a Rollins original. It just sounds out of place, with Cranshaw’s bass blurts sounding like something else. (And even DeJohnette sounds a bit unsure of what to do during Rollins’ solo; his drumming is both intrusive and stilted.) But the best song is “Tennessee Waltz,” which Rollins takes so much care in for his solo (over twinkly stars provided by the rest of the band) that it made me fall in love with the standard all over again.