Volume 40 of the Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series is a gem. The disc is divided between Sonny Rollins’ trio and Horace Silver’s quintet, both of which performed and recorded at Radio Studio Zurich on March 5, 1959. Magic was in the air for both sets of quintessential hard bop.
Rollins goes first, with bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Pete La Roca. They jump right in, all together on the first note, with a midtempo take of “I Remember You.” Rollins, who is doused with an unusual amount of reverb, immediately launches into a solo that showcases his flexibility, and then trades twos with La Roca while Grimes walks. The absence of a chordal instrument has historically brought out the best in Rollins. His brief take of “It Could Happen to You” is the highlight; most of it is Rollins soloing unaccompanied, and the beauty he blows illustrates why he’s always been among the best true soloists around, whatever the decade. Grimes gets his own unaccompanied solo turn on a speedy “Oleo,” flexing his muscles while no doubt giving himself blisters.
Silver’s quintet features trumpeter Blue Mitchell, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Louis Hayes. The Latin influence on Silver’s hard bop—all five compositions are his—is evident from the first notes on “Nica’s Dream” to the final bars of his signature tune, “Señor Blues.” Hayes turns in feisty work on the former but reins it in nicely when it comes time for solos. The apex of this set is “Shirl,” a rhythm-section spotlight that allows Silver to negotiate awkward rhythmic hurdles while soloing unpredictably but without fireworks.