Sonny Rollins. At UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Sunday, October 22.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
Sonny Rollins played for two full hours without a break on Sunday night, and he received three standing ovations — one for walking onstage, one at the end of his regular set, and another at the end of the second encore. Rollins seemed happy with the commotion, pounding his fist to his chest and then punching it in the air to get the crowd going. This was certainly one of the best concerts of the year, and quite possibly one of the best jazz concerts Santa Barbara — or anywhere else for that matter — has ever seen. Rollins has some terrific new material and a band that seems to fit him perfectly, loose and flowing like the black jacket and signature bright red trousers he wore to the show.
Rollins wasted no time getting into the songs from his new studio album. And even for those who were not familiar with Sonny, Please, which is at the moment only available through his Web site, sonnyrollins.com, this was a blessing. The title track was the second tune of the night, and it opened with an auspicious clavé beat that Rollins and bassist Bob Cranshaw slowly transformed into harmonically complex modal blues. It’s an unforgettable, driving theme that sets Rollins up for blowing chorus after chorus of perfectly inventive arpeggios. Next up was “Stairway to the Stars,” a down-tempo number that Rollins said he remembered from his childhood, which he claimed was “back in 1895.”
Rollins is not that old, but his best-known work, Saxophone Colossus, did just celebrate its fiftieth anniversary this year, and it is an extraordinary piece of luck that we still have the man himself in such joyous, inimitable form. With his white beard and hair and heavy-framed black glasses, Rollins looks old, but the music that springs from his horn continues to define eternal jazz youth. He was especially spry on “Global Warming,” a kind of calypso by way of Cape Town that has become his theme song in recent years. With the crowd on its feet and clapping along, Rollins strode to the edge of the stage and lowered the bell of his horn toward the people, popping and bending rhythmic “ride” notes on top of the band’s propulsive beat. This was an unforgettable night, and Santa Barbara was suitably grateful, staying to the very end and roaring with approval as Rollins finally left the spotlight.