Dusted Reviews

Sonny Rollins - Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Sonny Rollins

Album: Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert

Label: Milestone

Review date: Nov. 9, 2005

In the intervening years since 9/11, innumerable musicians worldwide have paid homage to the lives lost in the catastrophe. Concerts and discs continue to serve as both cathartic documents and commercial ventures. Sonny Rollins’ Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert is a bit removed from the usual fare and carries a special resonance for a couple of reasons. First, there’s the proximity of the recording date to the actual event. Taped in Boston just four days after the planes toppled the Trade Center towers, the inestimable horror and sorrow are still fresh in the minds of both musicians and audience. Next there’s Rollins’ own physical proximity. His lower Manhattan residence was just six blocks from Ground Zero. He was home the day of the attacks and took part in the massive evacuations. These thoughts and memories weigh heavy on the music, and while the ensemble does its best to put on an optimistic face and a good show, the gravity of tragedy sucks at Rollins’ storied vivacity like a black hole.

The set list is archetypal Rollins, with a handful of standards and an original calypso. Each of the five tunes stretches to make room for expansive solos that sometimes wallow in water-treading stasis, but by and large justify their lengths. Rollins occasionally sounds weary, his sterling improvisatory skills sapped slightly by the situation and perhaps also by age, to the point where he hews uncommonly close to the melody on some of his solos. His rich, burnished tenor tone remains intact, though, and it’s a pleasure to hear him sail expressively from chorus to chorus, evincing moments of coruscating creativity.

Trombonist Clifton Anderson, Rollins' nephew, has been a part of the Rollins’ retinue for so long that his success as responsive foil remains assured and his uncle accords him ample solo space. Pianist Stephen Scott also makes good use of his spotlight turns with a nimble right hand and penchant for shaping lushly patterned chords. Bassist Bob Cranshaw, who has played with Rollins for decades, settles into laid-back accompaniment. When he does step to the fore, he reveals the reasoning behind his wallflower status, his technique atrophied by the luxuries of a longtime gravy gig. Drummer Perry Wilson and auxiliary percussionist Kimati Dinizulu feature prominently on an effervescent “Global Warming,” weaving with Scott’s kalimba to support another of Rollins’ extended flights, concluding in an escalating riff-driven culmination that elicits a standing ovation. The unrestrained saxophonics of “Why Was I Born?” up the ante even further, opening with a muscular unaccompanied preamble and saving strength during a stellar Anderson solo for a closing tenor, bass and drums tour de force. It’s been a long time since a live Rollins record of recent vintage hit the music shop shelves. Even with an overarching canopy of melancholy and loss, this offering proves well worth the wait.

By Derek Taylor

Read More

View all articles by Derek Taylor

Find out more about Milestone

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.