Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Vol. 1

Craig Carson

Given the dearth of material Sonny Rollins had to choose from and his sharp attention to quality, Road Shows, Vol. 1 represents some of the best music the saxophone colossus has released to date, which should come as no surprise.

Sonny Rollins

Road Shows, Vol. 1

Label: Doxy
UK Release Date: Available as import
US Release Date: 2008-10-28

Sonny Rollins, the great shape-shifting tenor saxophonist, is a well-travelled man. His performing life began back in the 1940s, and he continues to perform around the world today at the age of 78. So no lack of recorded material exists to choose from for his latest release, Road Shows, Vol. 1. Rollins is also a notoriously harsh self-critic and often the first to deride an imperfect performance. Given the dearth of material Rollins had to choose from and his sharp attention to quality, Road Shows, Vol. 1 represents some of the best music the saxophone colossus has released to date, which should come as no surprise.

Due to the range of personnel, the different eras in which the music was recorded and the song selection, an understandably wide-ranging mood exists on this album. The collection starts with a swinging "Best Wishes" from a 1986 performance in Tokyo. Rollins sets a fiery tone, a statement of intent it seems, that bleeds into the subsequent tracks. Rollins and his band downshift from the full-throttle "Best Wishes" into the meditative "More Than You Know", which he and his band recorded in Toulouse in 2006. The contrast between the tracks proves striking, perhaps even more so given that 20 years had passed between the recordings. Rollins sounds no less engaged: His runs sound as intricate and precise as they always have. He proves unafraid to dip down into an almost free-jazz territory at times and beautifully mixes playful melody with a satisfyingly low-register skronk.

Rollins and his band then fall back to 1980 with a performance of "Blossom" in Sweden. With the knowledge he has assembled a solid group of backing players, Rollins encourages other members of his band to shine at just the appropriate moments. Mark Soskin's piano journeys from a slow, contemplative sparseness to an quick, calypso-like strut and back again with the band locked in to every shift and variation. Rollins dips in and out like a boxer, alternately jabbing and wailing with precise dexterity. Although the longest track on the album, "Blossom", doesn't feel overextended due to the high level of connection and lively interplay between band and leader. Following a return to the theme and the pounding conclusion, the crowd reacts with justified, frenzied approval, making it perhaps the most engaging track on the album.

"Easy Living", also from a 1980 performance, provides a smooth respite from the fury of "Blossom". The push-and-pull pacing of the album proves an effective strategy, at least to these ears, for appreciating both the subtly of the slower tracks and the awesome technicality of the faster tracks. The solo improvisation from Rollins in the coda to "Easy Living" leads to a shimmering conclusion that brings the band and rapturous audience together in way that suggests the kind of audience-musician mind-meld that only the most accomplished of artists can attain.

A stoic "Tenor Madness" from 2000 is solid but not as enthralling as the previous cuts. Rollins and his band rebound with a recording of "Nice Lady" from 2007. This track and the ensuing "Some Enchanted Evening" (also from 2007) conclude the album in a fitting sequence. Rich with nuance and restraint, these performances illustrate the mastery of using space. Silence is often a powerful asset for Rollins throughout "Nice Lady" and "Some Enchanted Evening". Ever thoughtful and with a delicate touch, these tunes showcase the most recent chapters of the Rollins odyssey in a manner befitting of his vast talents and years of experience.

Road Shows, Vol. 1 is a reminder that Sonny Rollins continues to travel and perform some of the world's best jazz, and what a sweet journey it continues to be.






Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.