CD Review of Saxophone Colossus (vinyl edition) by Sonny Rollins
Recommended if you like
John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis
Sonny Rollins:
Saxophone Colossus
(vinyl edition)

Reviewed by Michael Fortes


n the halls of the high school where I first started writing these informative missives for anyone who cared to read, the sax players in jazz band had one man’s name rolling off their lips more often and passionately than the rest. Sure, there were Coltrane and Cannonball, but it seemed that the rockers talked them up more. Nope, it was Sonny Rollins who had my young classmates in awe, and if I had to guess which CD they were groovin’ to, it would have to be the album whose title spawned the nickname still attributed to the man to this day – Saxophone Colossus.

Sonny’s thick, round tone on the tenor, coupled with the smooth accompaniment of his crack rhythm section on this 1956 session – pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Doug Watkins and legendary drummer Max Roach – made for a stirring combination on this mostly slow to mid-tempo set that ranks with classics like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and Dave Brubeck’s Time Out. Among the five cuts featured, the Caribbean flavored “St. Thomas” is a bona fide jazz standard thanks to the version Rollins recorded here. “Strode Rode” gives Roach a chance to let loose in brisk bebop fashion as he and Rollins engage in some lively call and response. “Moritat,” better known at the time as the theme from Kurt Weil’s Threepenny Opera and best known these days as “Mack the Knife,” is the only tune that could possibly be stale due to the overexposure of all the various vocal versions out there. However, the light, carefree touch Rollins and company afford the tune leave it as fresh sounding as “St. Thomas,” which itself is ageless.

I won’t get into “Blue 7” – others have written at length about this performance in a scholarly fashion that, suffice to say, render any further discussion boring at worst, redundant at best. All you need to know is: it’s a cool, finger snappin’ blues, and it rules. It may not sound all that special 50 years of musical developments later, but if you can shut that part of your brain off that longs to size it up against the latest Bad Plus album, it’ll at least sound as good as the rest of Saxophone Colossus.

But I will get into this – the vinyl edition offered up by Concord at their Collectors Corner site is identical to the reissue utilizing the original cover art that first appeared in the late 1980s, after the album was remastered in ’87. Which is to say, it might be a tad flimsy by today’s audiophile vinyl standards, but you can’t argue with that iconic black and blue cover.

Also of note: unlike other Concord vinyl titles reviewed here, this reviewer’s copy of Saxophone Colossus also included a white inner sleeve lined with clear dustless rice paper. With the error-free playback of this title, the extra nice sleeve was very much worth slipping into the package.

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