Sonny Rollins, The Bridge (Bonus Track Version)

Kevin Whitehead

By Kevin Whitehead

on 07.18.11 in Reviews

The Bridge (Bonus Track Version)

Sonny Rollins
A comeback with vigorously swinging standards and originals

Once upon a time, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins — still riding high when The Bridge turned 50 in 2012 — was jazz’s most notorious dropout, taking long and much-lamented sabbaticals from the scene. His well-publicized 1959-62 break was partly in response to lavish praise for his improvisational depth; it made him self-conscious, more aware of his shortcomings. He took to practicing on the walkways of the Williamsburg Bridge, so’s not to disturb his Lower East Side neighbors. (The location was loud and windy; playing there built strength.) Word had it he was grappling with ideas raised by the Coltrane/Coleman avant-garde. Yet The Bridge, Sonny’s comeback, was a set of vigorously swinging standards and originals — reaffirmation, not revolution. The lemony tang of Jim Hall’s guitar, in place of piano, offset Sonny’s garishly lush sound, with its echoes of East River tugboats. Hall gave everything a lighter feel, the relentless thrust of Ben Riley’s or Harry T. Saunders’s drums notwithstanding. (Bassist Bob Cranshaw? Still with Sonny, 50 years on.) No one deconstructs and reassembles every aspect of a tune like Rollins, refurbishing — and breaking your heart with — shopworn oldies like “Where Are You?”