Overshadowing the Shadow

A Carnegie triumph for Mr. Rollins proves that the Sonnymoon is never over

The second half, with Rollins supported by trombone, guitar, electric bass, drums, and congas on a pair of cheery riffs and a closing calypso, figured to be anticlimactic, and it was. Konitz, I'm told, was gone before the calypso, which was probably just as well—he'd have objected to the interminable drum solo on top of an interminable conga solo, and he'd have been right. The contrast between the two sets revealed itself visually: In the nightcap, Rollins literally fronted a rhythm section, whereas if he'd moved any closer to the drums during the opener, he'd have been able to scoop Haynes's beats into the bell of his horn.

Not that Haynes made all the difference. Rollins is a song man: Even when he briefly embraced free-form in the early '60s, hiring Don Cherry and Billy Higgins away from Ornette Coleman, he continued to use the occasional Broadway number as his launch. He may be able to forgo a chording instrument, but not chords. Blues and calypsos may give him plenty to work with rhythmically. But when Rollins is on, rhythm takes care of itself through the combination of his island heritage and a sense of comic timing worthy of Jack Benny.

Not that Haynes didn't also benefit from the encounter. Generally recognized as our greatest living drummer now that Max Roach is gone, he's lately become overbearing when leading his own groups. Matching wits with Rollins, though, he regained the subtlety that earned him his reputation in the first place. (As an aside, Concord has just reissued 1957's The Sound of Sonny, one of Rollins's few recorded meetings with Haynes. Canonical only insofar as everything by Rollins from that period is, it's nevertheless delightful, no less thanks to Sonny Clark—if every pianist comped as sparely yet decisively as he does here, no saxophonist would ever dream of going piano-less.)

What we've long wished for from Rollins is greater intimacy, if not in terms of smaller venues (no way he's going back to playing clubs), then in terms of trimmer ensembles. We've wanted to hear him mix it up with players of equal stature (Haynes comes close) and top-notch relative newcomers like McBride. Most of all, we've wanted surprise—not necessarily for him to break with jazz convention (if this were Ornette Coleman, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson would have been onstage), just for him to break his own established routines. For 50 minutes at Carnegie, he came close to giving us all of this. The shame is that a good part of the crowd missed some of it, kept waiting in line for close to half an hour at a single will-call window—poor planning on someone's part. Rollins issued an apology on his website the morning after, but even factoring in the second set, he has nothing else to apologize for. It was some enchanted evening, all right.

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