Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Old Cowhand - The District

From the District Weekly - (4/29/09)

By the end of the 1950s, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins had recorded enough quality wax to fill a jukebox. Rollins released nearly one record per month in 1957 for a handful of different record companies, and on March 7 of that year, Rollins, passing through Los Angeles on tour, recorded the first of two releases for Contemporary Records, Way out West. The rhythm section—bassist Ray Brown, in the midst of his lengthy stint with Oscar Peterson, and drummer Shelly Manne, who appears to have spent more time in the Contemporary studio than the mixing console—was absent of any chordal support (e.g., piano, guitar, electric clavinet, twelve-button accordion). Instead, Rollins’ unorthodox instrumentation had become a regular setting for his boisterous tenor, giving him far more soloing flexibility but also more melodic responsibility. His two supporters lay back, allowing Rollins to strut over the minimal accompaniment, his seesawing lines leading every turnabout phrase to a frustratingly clever conclusion.

The trio began recording, depending on whom is talking, somewhere between 2 and 5 a.m. in the Contemporary studios—a converted office space just off Melrose Avenue. By sunrise, the band had recorded six solid tracks, half of which kept up the cowboy theme: “I’m an Old Cowhand,” “Wagon Wheels” and an original, “Way out West.” The production, laid out by the innovative ears of Roy DuNann, is spaciously vivid with saxophone pads clopping behind every note and an unintended panning effect occurring every time Rollins turned to conduct the band. On the cover, Rollins stands skeptically in cowboy regalia, holster and all, giving William Claxton’s camera an arched glare among the Joshua trees. When it was released, people couldn’t tell if the cover was joke or jive.

With Way out West, Rollins had secured his jazz legacy by the age of 26. And over the last 52 years he’s nearly perfected it, never laying back on his status as one of the greatest living jazz legends, continuing a relentless tradition of tenor madness. Catch the old cowhand while he still has the generosity and sunglasses to hit the stage.


The Old Cowhand @ the District

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