Picks and Pans Review: Reel Life

updated 02/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Sonny Rollins

Rollins' place in jazz history—and, since he graced the Stones' Tattoo You, in rock history—is secure. Few would dispute that he is one of the three most important saxophonists since Charlie Parker, the other two being John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. But, as with Orson Welles in film, Rollins peaked in the early part of his career (mainly the late '50s). Since 1972 Sonny has made 12 albums for the distinguished West Coast jazz label Milestone, and none—Reel Life included—have been wholly memorable. Each has had its moments, though. Sonny's shining minutes here come in a masterful treatment of Billy Strayhorn's My Little Brown Book. This solo epitomizes his style. Sonny the tenor saxophonist is like Sonny the man—tall, big-boned, generous-featured. He generates a round, deep sound and constructs his solo with patience and intelligence, building feeling, never squandering notes. A conservative and a perfectionist, Rollins has always emitted an aura of insurmountable pride. (He did withdraw from the public twice in his career to study and practice.) At his best, his ideas run liquid, and so does his humor (the honking backstep to a low note at the end of the second chorus). But when tackling funk-jazz trivia like the title cut, he seems isolated and reduced by his own heroic integrity. He sounds lonely. It may be due to his independence more than to coincidence that the most powerful stuff on the album after the Strayhorn tune is the album-ending reprise of the title melody, which Sonny plays unaccompanied.

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