Jazz Disc Reviews: Enrico Rava and Sonny Rollins

The recording of saxophonist Sonny Rollins's Freedom Suiteis a true milestone in expressing sociopolitical comment through art.

Sonny Rollins disc 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sonny Rollins disc 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
ENRICO RAVA The Pilgrim and the Stars (ECM/MCI) While some may frown at the reissue trend that has become a regular feature of the jazz market in recent years, there is patently much to be said for transferring vinyl to CD and making some wonderful music available to a new generation or two. The same goes for albums already put out on CD which, because of the temporal lapse, may not otherwise catch the eye of the younger jazz fan. For that matter, the benefit also pertains to older jazz lovers with stacks of lovingly acquired LPs who have yet to make the leap to the digital format. Over the past couple of months, ECM has reissued no less than 40 albums in its Touchstone series. The recordings come from the first 20 or so years of the German label's almost four decades of groundbreaking endeavor, starting from Keith Jarrett's 1971 solo recording Facing You through to The Call by saxophonist Charles Lloyd's Quartet put out in 1993. ECM has never failed to push envelopes, although some point to the mid-1970s as the label's most exciting period. If that is so, The Pilgrim and the Stars, fronted by Enrico Rava, certainly provides collateral for that mindset. This is the Italian trumpeter's ECM debut as leader and he had the services of a magical roster of sidemen, principally American guitarist John Abercrombie along with Swedish bassist Palle Danielsson and Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen. The Pilgrim and the Stars sounds fresh and impelling from start to finish. All four players get a chance to shine with solo spots - such as Danielsson's deliciously textured and immaculately weighted slot on "Bella" - and they work just as well in unison. Rava's subtly exploratory filigree trumpet work is perfectly counterbalanced by Abercrombie's now-trademark mix of ethereal strumming and abrasive distortion departures. Meanwhile, Christensen provides the perfect percussion foil, straddling a wide range of textural sensibilities from velvety cymbal work to ferocious drum drives. The entire album traverses expansive sonic and energetic ground, from the mellifluous - for example on "Blancasnow" - to the avant garde stratospheric explorations of the suitably obscurely entitled "Pescue Naufrago." Interestingly, Rava has said he returned home from a long sojourn in New York in the early Seventies because he felt the fusion genre of jazz of the time was "uninteresting." But, while there are certainly parts of The Pilgrim and the Stars which could be placed in the fusion category, it comes over as having an entirely other - more artistically creative - intent. SONNY ROLLINS Freedom Suite Riverside/Helicon And still on the reissue theme, the Keepnews Collection has been doing the rounds for a while now, and the gems just keep on coming. The recording of saxophonist Sonny Rollins's Freedom Suite, for example, is a true milestone not only in the evolution of the art form, but also is a classic example of expressing sociopolitical comment through art. Rollins, along with the likes of bebop founding father drummer Max Roach, was very prominent in the civil rights movement of the Fifties and Sixties. And Rollins made no bones about his political stance. The original liner notes included the following Rollins statement: "How ironic that the Negro, who more than any other people can claim America's culture as his own, is being persecuted and repressed." Political sentiments aside, Freedom Suite - which also features Roach and bassist Oscar Pettiford - is one of those must-have releases for any self-respecting jazz collection. It finds Rollins at his youthful best, shortly after emerging as a force in his own right. Previously, he had featured in Roach's quintet and was the first horn player to record with legendary pianist Thelonious Monk, and he had just put out the excellent Saxophone Colossus record. The jewel in the Freedom Suite crown is undoubtedly the title track. The 19-minute-plus work takes the listener on an odyssey through a wide range of sensibilities and rhythmic changes. To borrow a phrase that was all the rage around that time, it is a quintessential "trip." Rollins and his cohorts display a wide range of skills and musical interests, incorporating intriguing takes on pop songs of the time, such as "Till There Was You" and "There Will Never Be Another You." These exemplify Rollins's primary trait - an appreciation of, and the ability to improvise on, a captivating melody.