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Sonny Rollins: Go West

Go West
Sonny Rollins: Go West
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The two albums Sonny Rollins recorded for Contemporary Records are often grouped together, as both were late 50s sessions matching the Manhattan-based Rollins with top-tier West Coast players. Both sessions displayed Sonny’s penchant for performing compositions that, in the jazz world, weren’t exactly common—so, for example, Johnny Mercer’s “I’m An Old Cowhand” definitely wasn’t a jazz standard when 1957’s Way Out West was released. Both albums also marked a period of searching: Way Out West was the first-ever trio date for Rollins (who’s accompanied by Ray Brown on bass and Shelly Manne on drums) while 1959’s Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders explores different instrumental combinations as Rollins searched for a meeting point between the more hard-edged East Coast sound with the cooler West Coast vibe. Craft Recordings’ Go West! pairs those dates with some outtakes that include extended and highly recommended performances of two Way Out West tracks. Cut from the original analog tapes by Bernie Grundman, Go West! boasts clear and open sonics with lots of air between instruments, and if you like Ray Brown and Leroy Vinnegar, let’s just say that both bassists make their presence felt. As for Sonny, well, that was never an issue, was it?


By Jeff Wilson

This will take some explaining, but I can connect the dots between pawing through LPs at a headshop called Elysian Fields in Des Moines, Iowa, as a seventh grader, and becoming the Music Editor for The Absolute Sound. At that starting point—around 1970/71—Elysian Fields had more LPs than any other store in Des Moines. Staring at all the colorful covers was both tantalizing and frustrating. I had no idea who most of the artists were, because radio played only a fraction of what was current. To figure out what was going on, I realized that I needed to build a record collection—and as anyone who’s visited me since high school can testify, I succeeded. Record collecting was still in my blood when, starting in the late 1980s, the Cincinnati Public Library book sale suddenly had an Elysian Fields quantity of LPs from people who’d switched to CDs. That’s where I met fellow record hawk Mark Lehman, who preceded me as music editor of TAS. Mark introduced me to Jonathan Valin, whose 1993 detective novel The Music Lovers depicts the battles between record hawks at library sales. That the private eye in the book, Harry Stoner, would stumble upon a corpse or two while unraveling the mystery behind the disappearance of some rare Living Stereo platters made perfect sense to me. After all, record collecting is serious business. Mark knew my journalistic experience included concert reviews for The Cincinnati Enquirer and several long, sprawling feature articles in the online version of Crawdaddy. When he became TAS music editor in 2008, he contacted me about writing for the magazine. I came on board shortly after the latest set of obituaries had been written for vinyl—and, as fate had it, right when the LP started to make yet another unexpected comeback. Suddenly, I found myself scrambling to document all the record companies pressing vinyl. Small outfits were popping up world-wide, and many were audiophile-oriented, plus already existing record companies began embracing the format again. Trying to keep track of everything made me feel, again, like that overwhelmed seventh grader in Elysian Fields, and as Music Editor I’ve found that keeping my finger on the pulse of the music world also requires considerable detective work. I’ve never had a favorite genre, but when it comes time to sit down and do some quality listening, for me nothing beats a well-recorded small-group jazz recording on vinyl. If a stereo can give me warmth and intimacy, tonal accuracy, clear imaging, crisp-sounding cymbals, and deep, woody-sounding bass, then I’m a happy camper.

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