Sonny Rollins: Tenor Madness


Tenor Madness


Sonny Rollins (tenor sax)


Tenor Madness (Prestige PRLP 7047)

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Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums).

Composed by Sonny Rollins


Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, May 24, 1956


Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

This medium tempo, B-flat blues is the title track of one of Sonny Rollins's many fine mid-1950s albums. It's also—unless there's a wire recording in someone's attic of the 1952 gig they played with Miles Davis at the Audubon Ballroom—the only recorded encounter between Rollins and John Coltrane. Trane, Chambers, Garland and Jones were less than two weeks removed from a marathon session, in the same Van Gelder studio, that produced all of Davis's seminal albums Workin' and Steamin' plus 2 tracks for Relaxin'. Perhaps the rhythm section was still winded from that creative exercise in contract fulfillment; or maybe Rollins's leadership wasn't as compelling as Miles's. For whatever reason, their playing here is somewhat less vital than on that session.

On the other hand, Coltrane and Rollins were clearly inspired by each other's presence. After a single statement of the riff-ish theme, the saxophonists get down to business. First Trane: in all his double-timing, sheets-of-sound glory, he exudes intensity and intellectual curiosity, dominated by a seriousness of purpose. Then Sonny: no less intense or curious than Trane, but with a looser manner of phrasing and a subtle yet palpable sense of play. The saxophonists' mutual respect is most evident as they trade fours with Jones. They listen and respond, molding their phrases to match and complement one another's. The defining characteristic isn't one-upsmanship, but rather a profound regard for continuity. There's a sense of reciprocity and a suspension of ego that would almost certainly not have existed had either been paired with any other tenorist. Both made better records than this, but neither came closer to meeting his equal as an improviser in the studio. It's certainly one of the essential tracks in the discographies of both.

Reviewer: Chris Kelsey

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