Sonny Rollins at the Barbican

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Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone), Clifton Anderson (trombone), Bob Cranshaw (electric bass), Kimati Dinimulu (percussion), Steve Jordan (drums), Bobby Broom (guitar)


Reviewed by: Mark Crabbie

Reviewed: 13 May, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Commonly listed alongside the great luminaries of the ‘golden generation’ of jazz performers such as Thelonius Monk (a jamming partner of Rollins’s youth), John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Rollins is as famous for his encyclopaedic memory for music as his technical skill. When he picks up his sax, people listen.

This performance at the Barbican was packed with an enthusiastic audience keen to witness one of the greats in the flesh. Jazz lends itself to the live arena infinitely better than to the studio, or indeed live recordings. The freedom inherent in the medium means that given the opportunity to see a performer of Rollins’s calibre in London, enthusiasts made it their priority to be there.

It is no secret that Rollins has chosen to “live lightly on the earth” having taken a number of sabbaticals in order to remain in love and in tune with his music and even living in an Indian ashram to study yoga. The intensity of his practice borders on the obsessive.This level of dedication has lead to the widespread recognition of his ability that is described in terms ranging from transcendent to unique and taking in most superlatives on the way – and has helped to make him the hot ticket that he is.

Now in his mid-seventies, Rollins entered the arena in the midst of his supporting artists to launch, without preamble, into the first number. There followed a meandering series of solos that saw Rollins’s nephew, Clifton Anderson, on trombone and guitarist Bobby Broom each acquit themselves capably before Rollins took over to finish the number in his inimitable style and with his own unprecedented harmonic imagination.

With Bob Cranshaw keeping time on electric bass, percussion by Kimati Dinimulu and drumming provided by Steve Jordan, the greatest living improviser in jazz buzzed through his set, fingers twitching on the keys constantly and hunched (at times almost double) in concentration.

Obviously happy to be back in London, scene of his halcyon days at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, Rollins included the ‘calypso variations’ that he has become famous for including, a rousing version of Salvador, immediately before the intermission. The second half, too, passed in a blur of harmonic improvisation before finishing, as ever, with “Don’t Stop The Carnival”.

As his years progress, those who might question how strong Rollins is were emphatically answered. Despite his stoop he displayed no shortage of breath-control or command of the music; fans were sent home satisfied with a few new converts to the cause of the “Saxophone Colossus”.

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