Sonny Rollins’ 1957 masterpiece – Way Out West – needs little introduction. Comprising six tracks, half of them Western-themed, performed by the tenor saxophonist’s trio with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, it is not only a perfect record and one of jazz’s most iconic albums—those clip-clopping rhythms leading off “I’m an Old Cowhand” and “Wagon Wheels” are unmistakable—it also cemented both Rollins’ status as a titan and the piano-less trio as a legit format. Now, more than 60 years later, the vinyl renaissance gives us an occasion to appreciate Way Out West anew. Concord’s Craft Recordings division has issued a “deluxe” edition of the session, with a second LP gathering alternate takes and snippets of studio chatter.
The original album requires no further analysis in 2018, except to say that this pressing brings all of the richness and warmth one expects from fresh vinyl, with new liner notes by Neil Tesser. Three of the alternate takes have been around before, on CD reissues, but two of them are heard here for the first time. The alternate take of “There Is No Greater Love” is exactly the same length as the master—5 minutes and 16 seconds—but Rollins’ solo is very different. The alternate take finds him livelier, playing more notes and with more fire, and his vigorous solo alters the song dramatically. A third version of the title track (it’s actually the first take) surfaces here, one that’s about a minute longer than both the master and the previously available alternate. Rollins solos a bit longer and with more muscle, and maybe that’s why it wasn’t preferred; a more subdued approach might have seemed more appropriate. Rounding out the new release are two brief snatches of dialogue that provide some behind-the-music color—in one, Rollins argues in favor of giving his tune “Come, Gone” the innuendo-rich title “After You’ve Come.” Available for digital download and on streaming platforms in addition to the vinyl box, this is an essential set for Sonny Rollins fans.