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Sonny Rollins: Holding the Stage: Road Shows Vol. 4

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Sonny Rollins’ most celebrated album of the 21st century is, and may very well always be, Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert. In part that’s because of the dramatic circumstances behind its genesis. Four days after the 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center, which had left him stranded in Downtown Manhattan without electricity, Rollins made a difficult trip to Boston to keep a previously booked date at the Berklee Performance Center. The circumstances triggered something deep in Rollins’ playing that September night, and the concert was at once an outpouring of emotion, a celebration of the creative impulse and an inspiring show of indomitability in the face of terror.

The biggest news about Holding the Stage, the latest installment in Rollins’ continuing live compilation series Road Shows, is that it presents the final half-hour of that Boston concert for the first time on disc. Why weren’t these four tracks included on Without a Song? One presumes that running time and program flow were factors, but the biggest issues appear to have been technical. A few stray pops, clicks and distortion bursts detract from the music here and there, and Rollins’ saxophone is distant at times, either because his mic was malfunctioning, he was playing way off it, or both. At one point the whole band seems to get farther away, suggesting that we’ve switched to a more remote recording source. (Maybe the soundboard tape ran out?)

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