Track Selection 1: I’m an Old Cow Hand (Mercer)
Selection 2: Solitude (Ellington)
Sonny Rollins (ts) Ray Brown (b) Shelly Manne (d) recorded Los Angeles, CA, March 7, 1957, engineer Roy duNann, produced by Lester Koenig.
Selections: Rollins delighted in cheesy material as his start point (think of No Business Like Show Business on the LP Work Time – who else but Sonny would dare?) After the scene-setting clip-clop intro, Sonny articulates the quirky lyrics of composer Johnny Mercer, and then he’s off on his signature seamless runs and biting accents over Brown’s solid underpinning framework.
In contrast, Rollins is luxuriously expansive on Duke Ellington’s Solitude, a classy big-toned ballad with ample scope to explore the melody, which is never far away.
Rollins’ Chronology: Work Time (1955);Tenor Madness (1956); Saxophone Colossus (1956);Tour De Force (1956); Tribute to Bird (1956); Sonny Rollins, Vol. 1 (1956); Way Out West (1957); Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2 (1957); The Sound Of Sonny (1957); Newk’s Time (1957).
Downbeat Poll-winners Ray Brown and Shelly Manne find themselves on their first outing, “strolling” with Rollins in a piano-less trio format in which Sonny solo’s over bass and drums. Though the rhythm section are rewarded with their solo spaces, there is no post-bop emancipation of the supporting players to equal roles. No one is in any doubt, this is Sonny’s album.
The trio play with a relaxed mastery, humour and endlessly inventive interplay. It is also a fine recording by duNann, equipped with two of the relatively new German AKG C12 mics, which duNann would whack straight into his Ampex tape recorder ( so I am told, hat tip Marc) made possible because the C12 already contain a valve amplifier within the body of the mic, intimately capturing the presence of the instruments. Just another reason why analogue vinyl audio reigns supreme.
Vinyl: Contemporary Vogue LAC 12118 UK 1st release, mono, pressing by Decca 146gm vinyl. Song copyright on the label refer to French licensees, though this is unequivocally a UK Decca pressing, perhaps a quirk of planned European distribution.
Sonny’s Fifties label-hopping between Prestige (UK Esquire), Contemporary ( UK Vogue) Blue Note (no UK licencee) and Riverside (Interdisk) kept British jazz fans on their toes with a variety of local editions, with both Esquire and Contemporary and early Riverside all pressed by the ever reliable Decca, New Malden. Fifties New Malden, if anyone were under the illusion, was not New Jersey. It’s main drug scene was probably sleeping tablets to ward off suburban ennui. (Ennui – this week’s French word to add a little insouciance to your conversation. It’s chic to parlez Francais, just don’t over do it like I am)
Cover: The idea for the cover photograph, Rollins dressed in Stetson hat, holster, and horn in place of a pistol, was apparently Rollins’ own, to celebrate his first trip out West, according to Koenig’s liner notes. Straight out of 1957, time out of joint, the cowboy genre was part of the staple diet of the 50’s small screen, and Rollins approach is a little tongue in cheek, as an unlikely afro-American cowboy. It’s a long time culturally before Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles.
Source: Collection of the late Brian Clark, who had a fondness for Rollins, and you can expect more Rollins from his collection in coming months.
Some thoughts on what made vinyl modern jazz record collecting possible are gathered in a short LJC thought-ographic. You probably are aware of all this stuff, but I am always interested in other peoples points of view if you have any additional observations, the floor is yours…