Sonny Rollins Meets Wynton Marsalis

The meeting of the saxophonist Sonny Rollins and the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis finally came to pass Friday night at the Beacon Theater, and it was worth the wait. The concert was originally scheduled last month at Town Hall, but that show got off to a false start when Mr. Rollins fainted early in the first set, shortly after he first locked horns with Mr. Marsalis. It was rescheduled, and ticket holders were offered a choice of refunds or new tickets for the Beacon Theater show.

Actually, the choice was clear-cut. Mr. Rollins was playing very near the awesome top of his game at Town Hall, before he succumbed to a previously undiagnosed case of high blood pressure. He promised to come back playing even stronger and, at the Beacon Theater, a loudly enthusiastic capacity crowd heard him keep his promise.

The evening began with Mr. Rollins charging full steam ahead into a high-energy calypso, which he soon transformed into a wildly careening carnival celebration with punchy riff repetitions and frequent descents into his horn’s bottom register. Jack DeJohnette, who had been brought in on drums to light a fire under Mr. Rollins’s regular guitarists and bassist, contributed alert punctuations, and his bright, crackling sound and infectious momentum kept the rhythm section at an exhilarating peak.

Mr. Marsalis joined the group for the remainder of the first set, and came out again after the first number of the second set. He was in superb form, playing with a singing, open-hearted lyricism and rhythmic authority that recalled the young Lee Morgan, but with the sort of attention to details of attack, inflection and timbre that one usually hears only in the work of trumpeters who are older, and presumably more mature. His fondness for be-bop led to some riveting exchanges with Mr. Rollins. The saxophonist’s playing throughout the evening cruised some intriguing byways, far from the expected harmonic and rhythmic routes, often in response to a particularly daring and felicitous modulation or harmonic extension from Mr. Marsalis.

The trumpeter also performed a service by bringing the band’s volume level down to a near-whisper midway through several of his solos. The rhythm players listened more attentively to what both horn players were doing after Mr. Marsalis first took their dynamics in hand, though with two electric guitarists (Bobby Broom and Masuo) and electric bass (Russell Blake), they never managed the sort of springy, swinging lightness a more conventional jazz rhythm section would easily have achieved.

Still, with both horn players and drummer soloing with consistent imagination, and on several occasions rising to sheer brilliance, only a curmudgeon would have complained.

by Robert Palmer
Source: The New York Times

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