October 2005

Sonny Rollins - Without a Song (The 9/11 Concert)
Milestone MCD 9342-2
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Eric Hetherington

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

Sonny Rollins recorded this live performance in Boston on September 15, 2001, just four days after he witnessed the destruction of the World Trade Center from his home in Manhattan. Given the solemnity of the time, one might expect a somber set, but the band begins with an up-tempo take on "Without a Song." This instrumental disc conveys that song’s lyric as well as any singer could: "I’ll get along as long as a song is strong in my soul."

The set is filled out with four standards and Rollins’ recent "Global Warming." The band takes an extended tour of each song. The shortest track is 11 minutes long. The music is straight-ahead jazz with some Latin accents. Rollins’s saxophone is joined by trombone, piano, electric bass, drums and percussion. Even at a slower pace, as in "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," the music lifts listeners out of whatever is troubling them. It is unfortunate that we only get 73 minutes of this performance -- a double-disc set of the whole two-and-a-half-hour show would have been welcome.

The sound is decent for a live album and conveys the acoustics of the performance space, but the percussion seems muffled at times. Rollins's saxophone always sounds bold with a beautiful tone, but the electric bass is too forward in the mix on some tracks and the trombone sounds ever so slightly wobbly. The beauty of the music easily transcends these quibbles about the sound.

The 75-year old Rollins recently said that he wants to continue to play as long as he can represent the music with honor. If this disc is any indication, we’ll be hearing from him for years to come.