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Sonny Rollins, Vol. 1 (1956)

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Gene Ramey

After several incredible dates for Prestige, Rollins moved over to Blue Note to cut a series of studio and live recordings; while not as groundbreaking as his earlier work, the albums still stand out among the many hard bop releases of the day. Upon listening to this, his fine debut for the label, not to mention classics like Saxophone Colossus and Sonny Rollins Plus Four, one almost takes for granted the tenor giant's ability to reel off a nonstop flow of breathtaking solo lines while keeping an overall thematic structure intact. And even though it's not as classic sounding as other Blue Note titles like Vol. 2 or Newk's Time, Sonny Rollins, Vol. 1 will satisfy Rollins fans comfortable with a mostly loose and free-flowing set; the hard-swinging originals "Bluesnote" and "Sonnysphere" certainly fit the bill, while the loping blues "Decision" and easy swinger "Plain Jane" up the ante with fetching head statements. Topping things off, Rollins includes one of his singular Broadway song interpretations with the Finian's Rainbow ballad "How Are Things in Glocca Mora." Figuring prominently in the proceedings are veteran bassist Gene Ramey, longtime drummer Max Roach, and then up-and-coming hard bop stars trumpeter Donald Byrd and pianist Wynton Kelly. Maybe not a first-choice disc for Rollins newcomers, but certainly an essential title down the line. Sonny Rollins, Vol. 1 was reissued in 2003, newly remastered in 24-bit, as part of Blue Note's acclaimed Rudy VanGelder reissue series.] ~ Stephen Cook & Al Campbell