Picks and Pans Review: The Solo Album

updated 01/20/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/20/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

Sonny Rollins

Rollins is a conundrum. An improviser of dauntless energy and clear, pugnacious tone, he can construct solos of architectural brilliance or bog down in a fussy perfectionist reserve. He is one of the undisputed titans of the tenor saxophone, yet much of his reputation rests on work he did 20 to 30 years ago. Some of his forays into fusion have been stultifying affairs with nondescript accompaniment. One frequent observation is that in recent years Rollins, 55, hasn't challenged himself much in choice of sidemen or material. That couldn't be said of the concert he gave in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York last July: There were no sidemen, and the material had to be alchemized from his own interior. Played back on this disc, the results are encouraging. Though much of the nearly hour-long improvisation has a fragmentary and groping quality, Rollins loosens up and flies in several places. He quotes and alludes to numerous songs, from pop and jazz standards to such cultural artifacts as Pop Goes the Weasel and Home, Sweet Home. Many of these seem out of context, but others serve as wry punctuations or pleasing payoffs to insinuations that sneak up to the eventual outright quotation of a familiar phrase. The concert ends in a riffing blues groove that gets the audience clapping in unison. This set seems to be the work of a man whose fecund imagination has to deal with a short attention span. Ultimately, Rollins remains that conundrum. But it's gratifying at least to see him pitted against a challenge worthy of his talent. (Milestone)

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