Pop, Jazz : Colossus of Sonny Rollins


“Saxophone Colossus” is what Sonny Rollins was often called in the 1950s. And the appellation made sense during an era in which his music overlooked the jazz world with the vast presence of the legendary statue of Rhodes.

Today, at 60, Rollins is still arguably the finest jazz saxophonist in the universe--despite the growing importance of such players as Branford Marsalis and Michael Brecker. But, as his one-night program at the Strand Saturday made clear, he is a considerably different musician, in several respects, from what he was 30 years ago.

First, Rollins now paces himself. Backed by a five-piece ensemble (with Clifton Anderson on trombone, Jerome Harris on guitar, Mark Soskin on keyboards, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Al Foster on drums) that provided a safe and comforting setting, he played a series of extended solos, often interacting with the other players, especially Foster.


When Rollins was hitting his high spots, the results were breathtaking--sudden, brilliantly colored bursts of sound, body-moving rhythms and soaring melodies.

But the high points only came in brief stretches. And, good as they were, they took time to emerge, rarely achieving the full-out, nonstop, high-voltage electricity of his earliest playing.

Rollins also seems to have become far more concerned with reaching out to connect with his audience. Striding the stage restlessly, reaching down toward his listeners to make a particularly salient point with his horn, he was a virtual walking history of the saxophone. Hawkinsesque chromatics, Coltranesque runs and Ornette Coleman flurries were offset with bar-walking honks, New Orleans slap-tonguing and his own sun-drenched Caribbean rhythms.

Rollins seems to have become a performer who has found a way to ease comfortably into his mature years while still retaining a strong connection with the white-fire creative energy of his youth. At his best, the Colossus that is Sonny Rollins still casts a potent shadow.