Dual Doxy/Emarcy Records Release from Sonny Rollins

Expectations run very high at Sonny Rollins concerts, for both audiences and the saxophonist himself. Considered jazz's greatest living improviser, Rollins seizes the opportunity offered by each live performance to search for his "lost chord"; his audiences await nothing short of transcendence.

An extraordinary double dose of Rollins in concert is due on October 28, when the tenor saxophonist's Doxy Records label (distributed by Emarcy/Universal) will release a new live CD compilation entitled "Road Shows, vol. 1" as well as a DVD ("Live in Vienne") of a 2006 European festival performance.

came and went pretty fast in the repertoire
"Road Shows" is the exciting inaugural release in a planned series of outstanding live Sonny Rollins recordings from the last 30-plus years. The seven tracks on the new CD, culled from the Carl Smith collection and Rollins's own personal soundboard tapes, were recorded in the U.S., Canada, Poland, Japan, France, and Sweden. Featuring the saxophonist with a variety of sidemen-including, on one track, the Christian McBride-Roy Haynes trio that appeared with him at his 50th Anniversary Carnegie Hall concert in 2007-"Road Shows" captures the Saxophone Colossus in full flight, dazzling audiences around the world.

"Live in Vienne" was produced by French television and offers an up-close glimpse at Rollins onstage - in high-definition video - as he unfurls a superb hour-long set before a euphoric crowd at the 2006 Jazz à Vienne Festival. The saxophonist, who famously spent two years (1959-61) practicing on New York's Williamsburg Bridge, above the East River, finds that "playing outside is always great. But Vienne, with its Roman amphitheater, is a particularly photogenic place, a beautiful venue. The little town is on the Rhône River. And it was warm that night-just perfect weather."

In the late 1980s, Rollins began to record many of his concerts for archival purposes with possible future release in mind, and also to circumvent bootlegs, which have been a long-standing problem for the artist. "I was much less intimidated by the tape at live concerts" than in the studio, he admits. When the tape was always rolling, "it was much easier for me to get a natural performance."

From the start the intention was to record all of Sonny's concerts. Due to unforeseen technical problems or permission problems with venues, however, it was not always possible, according to "Road Shows" producer (and Rollins trombonist) Clifton Anderson. Of the approximately 600 concerts Rollins has performed since the late '80s, Anderson estimates that as many as one-third are in their archive, in whole or in part.

"There were performances that at the time they were done, I thought they might be acceptable at a later date in case I chose to release, " says Rollins. "But I hadn't really listened; I filed it in my mind, and later had to stir my memory as to which ones might be good."

When the time came to program the new CD, says Anderson, "we both remembered that the concert in Toulouse was a pretty good show, and Sonny remembered that Tama was a good performance, so I went back and listened to those in particular. That's how we arrived at our choices."

Four tracks from the Rollins archive are included in "Road Shows, vol. 1": "More Than You Know" (2006, Toulouse), which Sonny "brought out of retirement, " not having played it since the 1950s, when he recorded it with Thelonious Monk; "Tenor Madness" (2000, Tama City, Japan), whose last appearance on a Rollins disc was the live "G-Man" in 1987; "Nice Lady" (2007, Victoria, BC), the first recording of a new Rollins calypso; and "Some Enchanted Evening" (2007, New York City), from his 50th anniversary Carnegie Hall concert with Christian McBride and Roy Haynes.

"Road Shows"' remaining three tracks were selected from Carl Smith's collection-"Blossom" (1980, Umea, Sweden), a fascinating, little-known Rollins original that "came and went pretty fast in the repertoire, " says Rollins; "Easy Living" (1980, Warsaw), from Sonny's first trip behind the Iron Curtain ("the people were starved for music"); and "Best Wishes" (1986, Tokyo), previously recorded on his 1982 "Reel Life" album.

For future "Road Shows" compilations, Anderson and Rollins will have not only their own archives and Carl Smith's to draw from. "People have also submitted things to us, " says Anderson, "most recently a tape from Keystone Korner in the mid-1970s and a cassette from the Bottom Line. The bands are different, the material's different; the one common denominator is Sonny killin' through all of it."

Rollins, for a chance of pace, is looking ahead to his next studio album, which he is planning to begin at the conclusion of his fall concert season (Brazil in October, Germany in November/December).

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