Blue Note has done an admirable job of collecting the mellow material of a number of classic players for its Ballads series. Sonny Rollins' entry, like the others, finds the tenor in a late-night mood. The disc begins and ends with intimate trios offering fine renditions of "I Can't Get Started" and "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise," both featuring bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Elvin Jones. The openness of these two live recordings allows Rollins plenty of room to search and discover the right notes. There's a seven-minute version of Thelonious Monk's "Reflections" with Monk himself sitting in, and an adventurous take on "Decision" with trumpeter Donald Byrd, pianist Wynton Kelly, and drummer Max Roach. Certain choices, like "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" from Finian's Rainbow, also show Rollins' willingness to search outside of the jazz world for good material. It's difficult not to notice, when reading over the credits, other notable names on this disc. J.J. Johnson, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and Paul Chambers help out on "Poor Butterfly," while Philly Joe Jones and Doug Watkins join in on "Namely You." Ballads is a good collection of Rollins' mid-'50s work and provides a good place to compare his technique in a number of different settings.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.