Sonny Rollins: Grand Street
Sonny Rollins (tenor sax)
Sonny Rollins & The Big Brass (Verve 557545)
Clark Terry, Ernie Royal, Reunald Jones (trumpet), Billy Byers, Jimmy Cleveland, Frank Rehak (trombone), Don Butterfield (tuba), Dick Katz (piano), Rene Thomas (guitar), Henry Grimes (bass).
Composed by Sonny Rollins. Arranged by Ernie Wilkins.
Recorded: New York, July 11, 1958
Rating: 90/100 (learn more)
Sonny Rollins had been recording steadily for 9½ years, but this was his first big band date. Of course, Sonny always did things differently, so in this case trumpets, trombones and tuba are offset by just one saxophonist. When the latter is Sonny Rollins, who needs more? Veteran arranger Ernie Wilkins, who began his own recording career two years ahead of Rollins with Earl Hines's big band, had since crafted charts for such big-name bandleaders as Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Dizzy Gillespie, Terry Gibbs and most notably Count Basie ("Every Day I Have the Blues"). If anyone could lay out a Sonny-set boulevard for Rollins' big-band debut, it was Ernie Wilkins. And sure enough, "Grand Street" is a broad Cartesian thoroughfare of intersecting treats. Given that Rollins had lately taken to working with a pianoless trio, the piano comping seems superfluous, and there's a lackluster guitar solo. But Nat Adderley's cornet is cogent, and Wilkins makes fine use of Don Butterfield's tuba. Best of all, the brassy trumpets give us a rare opportunity to hear one of jazz's great tenormen in an Elmer Bernstein-style 1950s crime jazz setting. Plus Roy Haynes! There are no wrong turns on this "Grand Street."
Caveat: Sonny Rollins & The Big Brass (Verve 557545) preserves the full-length version of this track, whereas some other releases offer a shortened edit with a truncated finish. You wouldn't think a few extra seconds could make much difference, but in this case they do. It's a great ending, and why any record label would see fit to amputate it defies rational explanation.
Reviewer: Alan Kurtz