Music Reviews

Jazz - Part 9 - August, 1999

Dennis Davis




"The Bridge"

Sonny Rollins

RCA; LSC-2527

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Sonny Rollins is the last of the truly “larger than life” jazz legends to still be performing at what can arguably be called a peak level.  I have heard him perform several times over the last few years, and each performance has been at an extremely high level of energy and inspiration.  Given Rollins’ continuing vitality, it’s difficult to grasp that he recorded this 1961 album 38 years ago, and he was already well into a successful career.  The last time I saw Rollins perform, he was introduced by record producer Orin Keepnews, founder of the Riverside and Milestone labels.  He opined that Rollins has not lost a beat over the years and continues to grow as an artist.

Rollins recorded this album after a three year sabbatical.  Prior to that, he had spent almost a decade recording for Prestige and Blue Note, producing a string of classic albums and racking up jazz industry awards.  The title of the album derives from the fact that he practiced at night on a bridge to avoid playing at home and disturbing his neighbors.  Rollins plays with Jim Hall on guitar, Bob Cranshaw on bass, and Ben Riley or H. T. Saunders on drums.  The album is not only an important Rollins album, but also a great guitar album.  The interplay between Rollins and Jim Hall is remarkable. In a recent interview, Pat Metheny identified “The Bridge”, along with Bill Evans’ “Undercurrent” (an album of duets with Jim Hall) as the two most influential albums he listened to as a developing artist.

The original of this album has top notch sonics.  Not quite as remarkable as a couple of the later Rollins’ RCA recordings, but nothing to complain about.  Classic Records released the album on regular 33 1/3 rpm vinyl a couple years ago.  It was a close match to the original vinyl, but lacked the last degree of warmth and openness.  The sound of the saxophone was not quite as full, losing some of the overtones.  This new 45 rpm set spreads the album over four discs of vinyl, each pressed on one side only.  Like all Classic Records releases, it is pressed on 180 gram vinyl by RTI.  To my ears, it is an improvement over the 33 1/3 rpm release and in several ways is better than the original.  Most notably, on this new pressing, each of the players is fixed in space more discretely than in any prior version, giving a remarkable impression that the instrument is actually in the room with you, as opposed to being reproduced by some mechanical process.  The only shortcoming, and it is minor, is that in some passages I hear less fullness in the saxophone sound than in the original.  Even if you already have the album in some other form, if you have (1) a turntable to play it on; (2) the money ($43.) to squander; and (3) the space for multi-disc sets, this set is indispensable.

For reference, full track listing:

1. Without A Song

2. Where Are You

3. John S.

4. The Bridge

5. God Bless The Child

6. You Do Something To Me


- Dennis Davis -


"What it Is"

Jacky Terrasson

Blue Note; 7243 4 98756 2 3

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Jacky Terrasson is one of the best known and most in-demand young piano players on the jazz scene today.  He won the Thelonious Monk Competition in 1993 and has been hot ever since.  His Blue Note album “Reach” released in 1995 showed a lot of promise.  “Rendezvous”, his album with Cassandra Wilson, released in 1997, was outstanding in every way.  Both featured a core trio of piano, bass and drums, although “Rendezvous” added vocals and Mino Cinelu on percussion.  “What It Is”, produced by Cinelu, goes off in a direction only hinted at in “Rendezvous.”  Terrasson uses a larger group and obtains a more heavily produced studio sound.  In addition to Terrasson and Cinelu, the group includes (not all in each piece) flute, guitar, bass, harmonica, vocalist, oboe, and Michael Brecker on tenor sax.

The liner notes are more than normally vague about what Terrasson was trying to achieve here (“compositions that lay on the ear like a pleasantly loose-fitting pair of jeans”).   The writing and arrangements, all by Terrasson, are perhaps more ambitious than anything Terrasson has tried before.  The problem for me is that the music seems at times to drift into a new age/Brazilian kind of thing that I just cannot get into, or into a Weather Report kind of thing that Weather Report did better.   I tried hard to like this album.  I loved “Rendezvous” and have been impressed when I’ve heard Terrasson live.  Listening to the album, I had the sensation that I would have loved to hear this music in a club, where it would have made for a terrific set.  I’m not sure I will return to the recorded version, however.

The sound?  Everything is clearly recorded, but it sounds very much a studio recording, lacking a sense of real space.  If you want well recorded latin tinged music, stick with Stan Getz on his various Verve releases.  If you want Terrasson at his best, pick up “Rendezvous.”

For reference, full track listing:

1. Sam’s Song

2. What’s Wrong With You!

3. Little Red Ribbon

4. Better World

5. Toot-Toot’s Tune

6. Money

7. Le Roi Basil

8. Baby Plum

9. Ravel: Bolero


- Dennis Davis -


"Good Dog Happy Man"

Bill Frisell

Nonesuch; 79-5362

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Bill Frisell’s guitar sound is instantly recognizable. He has blessed us with a string of great albums, each of which is quite different.  However, his unique sound predominates on each one.  In “Nashville” he created a country sound, with an ensemble that included dobro, mandolin and harmonica.   “Gone, just like a train” is more difficult to categorize.  With Jim Keltner (a well known rock session drummer) and Viktor Krauss (bass player from Lyle Lovett’s country group), it had a little bit of everything.  Frisell’s newest album brings back both Keltner and Krauss, and adds his long time collaborator Wayne Horvitz (organ, piano, samples) and Greg Leisz (pedal steel, dobro, lap steel, Weissenborn, National steel guitar and mandolin).  Ry Cooder joins on the one song not composed by Frisell  -  “Shenandoah”. 

This is an incredible album.  Every cut is vintage Frisell, and for now this is my favorite Frisell album.  The three songs at the heart of the album  -  “My Buffalo Girl”, “Shenandoah” and “Cadillac 1959”  -  are mesmerizing.  “My Buffalo Girl” blends Frisell’s guitar work with Wayne Horvitz’ smoother than silk organ.  About five minutes into the song, some samples are blended in, suggestive at one point of The Who’s “Who’s Next” and at another point of George Harrison’s guitar.  Horvitz throws in an organ riff reminiscent of Dylan’s “Highway 61”, all the while blending these elements into a hypnotic nine minute spell.  “Shenandoah” includes Ry Cooder as a special guest.  It is beautifully played and will make the most city-hardened dweller long for the wide open range.  Buy the CD for this track alone.  “Cadillac 1959” uses guitar loops as background with Horvitz back on organ.  Mesmerizing.

Like all of Frisell’s recent albums, this one is well recorded.  It sounds good on everything from the home stereo, to headphones, to the car CD player.  I can’t think of a CD I’ve played this much in a very long time.

For reference, full track listing:

1. Rain, Rain

2. Roscoe

3. Big Shoes

4. My Buffalo Girl

5. Shenandoah (for Johnny Smith)

6. Cadillac 1959

7. The Pioneers

8. Cold, Cold Ground

9. That Was Then

10. Monroe

11. Good Dog, Happy Man

12. Poem for Eva


- Dennis Davis -

© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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