2 June 2008

Sonny ... your comments

I didn't get to Sydney for the Sonny Rollins concert, but I know others who did. Tell us how you found it. Just add your comments below.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

One of the best gigs I've ever seen! Huge sound, great lines and lots of melody.

Anonymous said...

awesome sound, awesome tone, awesome phrasing, awesome ensemble.

I coulda done without hearing the head so many times in a row, though.

John Polidori said...

This should have been posted earlier, but as your lowly scribe was away in Fiji in glorious sun and semi-monsoon it was fated to appear a week late. But one day before that flight to paradise, the Opera House lights dimmed ...

... and the crowd erupted before Sonny even appeared onstage. When he swaggered on it was with an energy that would not subside for the evening.

The concert sold out a month before the performance and was Rollins' first and perhaps last trip to Oz. Any thoughts we were at a concert were soon belied when the sextet opened with S'Wonderful, transporting the crowd back to a mid-50s American jazz salon. The outcome was a splendid evening to all lucky enough to get tickets.

The Opera House acoustics were surprisingly good, making one wonder whether it is actually more suited to jazz than orchestra! Up in row 88 Sonny's sax drifted velvet-like with a dashes of counterpoint from Clifton Anderson on trombone.

The two percussionists, drummer Kolbie Watkins and Kimati Dinizulu on bongos and assorted percussion chimed in with sharp swing and Afro-latin beats.

This was also an opportunity to see Bob Cranshaw, Rollins' longtime collaborator, give a masterclass in restrained and stylish bass playing. His foundation created the canvas for Rollins and Anderson to weave in and out of blues and modal harmonies. Cranshaw does not overplay, nor does he confine himself to walking. He half-walks, and occasionally adds semi-quaver passing notes that maintain momentum. This ability to implicity set a beat with subtle voice leading makes Cranshaw a very accessible bass player. He builds his solos, almost insensibly morphing from accompaniment to creatively unfolding the possibilities of his four-string electric bass. His playing could almost convince you, if you closed your eyes, that he was playing an acoustic bass.

What distinguishes veterans like Cranshaw and Rollins are their sense of form, the way they tie their solos to the head and the variety of musical idioms they have at their disposal. In fact, Rollins qualifies the theory that most jazz soloing is based around eighth-notes. He knows when a flurry is appropriate, but equally inserts displaced quarter notes (a feature of his compositions), augmentation of melodic fragments and short - sometimes repeated - percussive descents. He likes to quote the head during solos, exploring its contours and finding its limits. Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter also prefer this approach. It creates a strong narrative and makes the music accessible to both casual listener and afficionado.

Rollins has great stage presence (even from row 88). During St Thomas he quoted Waltzing Matilda to the delight of the crowd. One cannot forget to mention Bobby Broom on guitar, who shows that guitar is just as good at comping as piano and even better in some contexts. Broom adjusted his playing during a modal gospel tune to allow Sonny to find unusual depth in a chord progression consisting of practically one chord!

Sonny is still in his prime, loves the music and his approach and playing are life affirming. The audience clapped for three minutes before he came on for the mandatory encore, after which he got a standing ovation that will hopefully encourage more American greats to keep on touring down-under.