Review: Sonny Rollins at LJF 2012

Bob Weir sees one of the great jazz survivors at the Barbican and finds that despite his 82 years Rollins remains a model of creativity, concentration and commitment

Sony Rollins at Nice 2009This concert was a celebration of the phenomenon that is Sonny Rollins. At 82 and one of the greatest jazz survivors who was making important records over 60 years ago, the extent to which he retains the authority and creativity that established his enduring reputation is truly remarkable. Inevitably he now paces his input with more and longer solos from his talented band - saving his energy for a few extended blows. Like latter-day Hawk, Pres and Dexter, his playing is now stripped down to essentials but with undiminished concentration and commitment (chiding himself audibly on the rare occasion when his convoluted exploration went a little astray).

He opened and closed with vigorous workouts on his trademark calypsos - St Thomas and Don't Stop The Carnival and, indeed, there was a Caribbean feel to all he played. JJ, dedicated to trombone master J.J. Johnson, was a mid-tempo swinging ballad peppered with cheeky quotes during Sonny's well-structured solo. Nishi was a fast swinger with shared solo space that built up a rousing head of steam. The double-time ballad Time After Time showed the leader can still disassemble and reconstruct a familiar theme in a manner close to his peak.

It was no hardship to hear more featured work than even a couple of years ago from Sonny's band mates. Longtime associates Clifton Anderson (tb) and Bob Cranshaw (b) are authoritative stylists in their own right and their contributions were absorbing. Guitarist Saul Rubin is also a player of quiet distinction who was an effective foil to Sonny's more rumbustious outings. The band was blessed with an outstanding drummer in Kobie Watkins whose taste and drive became more crucial as the concert progressed. Sammy Figueroa's Latin percussion added lively rhythmic variety where it most mattered.

So by no means a nostalgic devotion for a former jazz great, but an exhilarating and entertaining performance of creativity and stamina for others, musicians and listeners, to admire and envy. The time passed much too quickly.

Photo: Sonny Rollins at Nice 2009, by Sylvia McRae

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