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Sonny Rollins: In Vienne

It’s instructive to compare Sonny Rollins’ performance at this June 2006 French concert to the 1965 and ’68 TV footage recently released as part of the exceptional Jazz Icons series. What’s remarkable is just how little his music-making approach has changed. Then, as now, Rollins’ m.o. was to fully examine all angles of a piece, and not leave it behind until all unique possibilities have been exhausted. Sliding into a meditative state, he becomes an island unto himself, a highly physical player with a seemingly bottomless well of ideas. The viewer becomes transfixed observing Rollins become transfixed; it’s one of the most satisfying experiences jazz has to offer.

Of course, 40 years ago, the younger Rollins had more to prove-he got more notes to the gallon, ventured further outside, utilized more nuance in his phrasing. He’s more accessible now, but still very much Sonny Rollins-there’s no mistaking that sound for any other. His solos remain feats of endurance, his improvisational skills still unmatched and undiminished. And although all of his interaction with his musicians-longtime bassist Bob Cranshaw, trombonist Clifton Anderson, guitarist Bobby Broom, percussionist Kimati Dinizulu and drummer du jour Victor Lewis-is confined strictly to the music itself, there’s no one with a keener ear than their leader; his trust and their allegiance is palpable.

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