Sonny Rollins: More Than You Know (Live)

Tenorist Sonny Rollins is the closest thing the jazz world has to a force of nature. And like tornadoes and earthquakes, this artist is both powerful and unpredictable. His finest moments usually come in the heat of a performance, rather than in the sterility of a recording studio, and the privileged audience, on these occasions, can sense the saxophonist feeding off their rapt attention as he delivers a solo that is both the culmination of a lifetime of horn-playing, and a Zen-like celebration of the present moment.

Rollins's Road Shows, Vol. 1 CD captures this rapturous side of the tenorist at work. It surveys more than a quarter century of performances and culls out seven tracks, including this titanic version of "More Than You Know," recorded in Toulouse in 2006. Rollins is a master of this type of "power ballad," where instead of introspective vulnerability we get grand statements from the mountaintop. One could easily trample the sentiments in a love song with such powerful outbursts, but instead Rollins manages to amplify the emotional qualities of the song, expanding their scope without losing any of their rawness. He seems paradoxically to be both in total command of the material, but also letting go and allowing the music to take him to its own chosen destination. His solo is a fascinating combination of motivic development, reworkings of the melody, and rhapsodic flurries.

In the midst of this inspired saxophony, you might neglect the contribution of guitarist Bobby Broom, which would be a shame. He counters Rollins's grandiloquence with a sharply etched solo, mostly in the higher register, in which each note glistens, almost like those shimmering phrases you hear from African harp masters. It stands in stark contrast to the rest of the performance, and is all the more effective for its unexpected delicacy.

November 22, 2008 · 0 comments


Teddy Wilson: More Than You Know

Teddy Wilson had already recorded this song as a sideman with Benny Goodman, and also under his own leadership with Billie Holiday handling the vocals. But it is a real treat to hear him, at the peak of his powers, tackle it in a solo piano format. We can enjoy his crisp touch and strong keyboard conception, still rooted in the stride piano style. A short while after this recording was made, Wilson's approach to the piano would seem old fashioned, at least to some younger fans, in the face of the mordant modernism of the boppers, but on these Keystone recordings he is very much at the forefront, ranking with Hines, Tatum and Waller as the defining keyboard stylists of the era. Here he opens with a leisurely ad lib chorus then falls into tempo with a confident two-handed conception, marked by the logic of its vertical construction and the stately momentum of his attack. I especially like the surprising harmonic movement in the coda, which was quite daring for the period.

June 09, 2008 · 0 comments


Rosemary Clooney: More Than You Know

While the lyrics of this 62-year-old standard show their age, its lovely melody is untarnished, and the vocalist, one year older than her song, is younger than springtime. Although she was by this time a well-established jazz singer, Rosie's reinvention as such was as farfetched as, say, Patti Page tackling the Thelonious Monk songbook. As a 1950s pop star, Clooney may've been, as her friend Bing Crosby declared, "the best in the business," but that business wasn't jazz. And indeed, this sensitively arranged ballad is to jazz tangential. Still, if you fancy a beautiful song beautifully sung, Rosie is riveting.

December 09, 2007 · 0 comments


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