Throughout his remarkable career, Sonny Rollins has betrayed a restless nature, unwilling to accept anything but continual growth and refinement. Thus we witness his periodic musical and spiritual sabbaticals, the constant shuffling of personnel, and his commitment to a deeper understanding of harmony. In the twenty-plus years since his return to the jazz wars, his sound has undergone an extraordinary evolution: the richness of his timbre, the variety of attacks, the layering of overtones and inflections--it's as if that immense, solid beam of light he projected in the 1950s had been run through a prism, and broken into all its spectral components. OLD FLAMES finds Rollins looking back with autumnal grandeur upon the great love songs of his youth, still looking for fresh, modern ways of interpreting these classics.
To that end he collaborates with the great saxophonist and composer Jimmy Heath, whose deep brass charts add tonal depth and burnished harmonic motion to "Darn That Dream" and "Prelude To A Kiss." On the former, Heath shades Rollins' gusty melodic effusions and gravelly hollers in billowing choral declamations and quasar-like rejoinders; after a pensive piano interlude by Tommy Flanagan, Sonny returns with a brilliant, circuitous recitative (including an aside from the "Woody Woodpecker" theme), coming to a climax over a piquant brass chord. The brass acts more in a rhythmic manner of a big band on Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss," where Sonny actively engages drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Flanagan in some animated give and take.
With just Clifton Anderson's trombone for tonal contrast, Rollins sustains this broad orchestral vision on the remaining tunes, the most exciting of which is his own "Time Slimes," which offers a fulsome harmonic canvas, taut polyrhythmic interplay, complex melodic variations and some superhuman low notes. Of the remaining ballads, Rollins and Flanagan approach "I See Your Face Before Me" with remarkable tenderness and restraint, while the title tune rouses the saxophonist to lofty romantic heights.
Personnel: Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone), Clifton Anderson (trombone), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Bob Cranshaw (electric and acoustic basses), Jack DeJohnette (drums).
Brass Choir: Jimmy Heath (conductor, arranger), Jon Faddis, Byron Stripling (flugelhorns), Alex Brofsky (French horn), Bob Stewart (tuba).
01 Darn That Dream
02 Where or When
03 My Old Flame
04 Times Slimes
05 I See Your Face Before Me
07 Prelude to a Kiss