11 de setembre, 2010

Sonny Rollins at Beacon Theatre (II)

 Sonny Rollins (foto: John Abbott)

* By Seth Abramson

It is an extremely rare occurrence in New York for jazz to occupy a large concert venue unassociated with a festival or sponsorship of any kind. Last night celebrated a legendary heavyweight titan in the music and the wait to get inside the Beacon Theater, for those fortunate ticket holders along with the unconventional venue, helped create the aura and electricity of a heavyweight boxing bout from the sport’s glory years. This was fitting given that Sonny Rollins, the master of ceremonies, who was throwing himself an octogenarian celebration, can spar, jab and throw left hooks of imaginative tenor saxophone jazz improvisation with all the power of a Joe Louis knockout every round or rather song he performs.

This concert was no exception and had some truly historic surprises. The evening commenced with Sonny taking the stage to a standing ovation applause and launching into the calypso influenced original Global Warming with his working group consisting of Russell Malone on guitar, Bob Cranshaw on electric bass, Kobie Watkins on drums and Sammy Figueroa on percussion. The tune was a slow boil as the leader and the rest of the group were finding their comfort zone with the venue. The leader was gesturing rhythmic grooves to his drummer and percussionist. This was followed by an original blues entitled Nishi, with Sonny characterisitically exploring the depths of improvisation on multiple choruses.

Sonny then stepped up to the mic to discuss how a higher being chooses the music to come through certain individuals and introduced Roy Hargrove as a “chosen one” to come to the bandstand. Just as he was about to begin I Can’t Get Started, he decided to grab his flugelhorn and put down his trumpet. He proceeded in poignantly stating the melody with a beautifully rounded tone to which Sonny briefly colored before electing to feature Roy primarily alone with the group. They followed this with the standard Raincheck, where Roy and Sonny engaged in more direct trading of solos with each one picking up the narrative back and forth to a crowd pleasing climax.

Sonny then invited the jazz guitar legend and his former band mate Jim Hall to join him as Roy Hargrove and Russell Malone exited the stage. Jim hushed the crowd intent on hearing the stirring beauty in his performance of In A Sentimental Mood with Sonny. The chemistry and shared history of Jim and Sonny together was immediately evident and demonstrated a musical rapport that hadn’t occurred on the stage until that moment. Following Jim taking the ballad out, they launched into If Ever I Would Leave You with the entire ensemble which was cleary one of a number of evening highlights, one to follow after the next from this moment on.

The next magical moment to follow was hearing Sonny in a trio format, with Christian McBride on bass and the legendary Roy Haynes on drums, performing Solitude, a feature for Christian. What followed was possibly Sonny’s most recognizable original blues heads in Sonnymoon For Two.  Before the completion of this tune Sonny invited the biggest surprise unannounced guest of the evening, none other than the iconic Ornette Coleman, who took to the stage and started to take the blues into his universe by chasing one strongly improvised melodic statemement after another without specifically outlining the original harmony.  The sound emanating from his horn is at once startlingly new and familiar as if it was there all along, waiting to be discovered. This, of course, being his signature and along with it bringing a challenge to which Sonny rose to with captivating elegance in trading choruses with Ornette.

All that could be done at that point was for everyone to exit the stage and hear the roar of the crowd before Sonny and his working band along with Jim Hall, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride and Roy Haynes returned for a rousing rendition of his most famous calypso St. Thomas for an encore.

While Sonny’s gait may have slowed somewhat now through the years his authority and powerful sound belie his age considerably. He was definitely Interested in proving this point as well throughout the night and didn’t disappoint.

Mission accomplished. And Sonny retains the undisputed heavyweight championship belt!

* Seth Abramson is the artistic director of Jazz Standard.