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Sonny Rollins: This Is What I Do

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Rollins radiates good humor and passion on this CD of three originals and three standards. “Sweet Leilani” is an unlikely jazz vehicle, but so were “Wagon Wheels,” “I’m an Old Cowhand” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” before Rollins transmuted them. The ersatz Hawaiian classic, made of eight bars played twice, is an almost mindlessly simple song. Embedded in it, however, are a couple of diminished chord possibilities that Rollins and pianist Stephen Scott exploit to make the piece a virtual blues. The third and fourth choruses of Rollins’ first solo and his closing choruses are thematic improvisation as inventive as any he has developed on record in recent years. Perhaps Scott’s quote from “Seven Come Eleven” is commentary on their gamble with this trivial material. The gamble is profitable. “Moon of Manakoora,” another bit of movie flotsam, has construction similar to “Sweet Leilani,” but Rollins does not bring to it the same intensity or irony. Bill Holman, on his Bill Holman Band (JVC), still has the last word in the wry transformation of this speck of Alfred Newman exotica.

Neither wryness nor irony, but beauty in melodic variation characterizes the work of Rollins and Scott on “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” Perry Wilson produces chattering commentary with his snare and cymbals behind the soloists on the ballad without intruding on their thoughts. Bob Cranshaw, as always, makes the electric bass sound like the real thing throughout and has a fine solo on “Charles M.” Named for Mingus, the piece is a blues tribute given additional poignancy by Clifton Anderson’s trombone plunger solo in the manner of the late Britt Woodman, Mingus’ lifelong pal. The remaining Rollins originals, “Salvador” and “Did You See Harold Vick?” are both tinged with calypso and the good feeling that develops when Rollins explores that idiom. He melds into “Salvador” the dance urgencies of Brazil.