[Note: Occasionally, I will feature reviews I've written of some of my favorite jazz recordings of the past few years. This review originally appeared in the November/December 2005 issue of Coda.]
Sonny Rollins, Without a Song (The 9/11 Concert) (Milestone MCD-9342-2)
Given the extraordinary context from which this album emerges—recorded in
Rollins’s record succeeds, to some degree, on the latter terms. That is, in performing amidst such disorienting adversity, the saxophonist offers a model of heroism through creativity, and that alone makes this record an uplifting document. But the disc is all the more moving for eschewing a self-consciously epic or elegiac tone. In the face of hysteria, Rollins offers merely a humble set of buoyant standards. This isn’t Rollins the vital improviser of the mid-1950s, but it is Rollins the timeless artist at his most fitting. His weathered, resonant tone suggests strength; the unaffected bounce he brings to familiar standards like “Without a Song” (a reprise from his seminal 1962 album, The Bridge) or “Where or When” distracts from grief in its demonstrative joy.
At one point in the record, Rollins opines between songs: “We must remember, ladies and gentleman, that music is one of the beautiful things of life.” He then adds, more modestly, “Maybe music can help, I don’t know, but we have to try something.” As the crowd roars back with applause in affirmation, Rollins the artist—so wise, ever insightful—brings the horn to his lips and offers a more immediate sign of salvation and understanding than words could ever provide.