Sonny Rollins Trio / Sonny Rollins

Freedom Suite

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By February of 1958, when Sonny Rollins recorded Freedom Suite, his political consciousness had risen to match the poetic scope of his music. In addressing his place as a creative artist and an African-American, Rollins recognized that both aspects of his being existed under second-class circumstances, and that it was time for this country to review these inequities. In recording with bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Max Roach, Rollins aligned himself with the modern jazz innovators who best exemplified his righteous brand of freedom. Pettiford is particularly inspired on trio and duo versions of "Till There Was You," where he displays an uncanny knack for enunciating lyrical syncopations without losing the flow of the beat or a sense of harmonic structure. His ringing half notes on the head to "Will You Still Be Mine?" set up a vibrant series of Rollins/Roach exchanges, while his charming solo distills the melody into its most swinging components. But it's "Freedom Suite," with its stunning stops and starts, extended variations, thematic interludes, and exhilarating denouement, that invites the most superlatives. Rollins' sense of sustained melodic invention is remarkable, as is his cyclical formal structure. The opening theme, with its affectionate parody of a formal overture, sets the band in motion, as if motifs and contrasting themes criss-cross and collide in a swinging trialogue. A waltz figure and dramatic, extended cadenza introduces one of Rollins' most touching ballads, richly tinted in smoky shades of blue, with some joyous buck and wing by Pettiford and Roach. Finally, a reprise of the waltz theme gives way to a climactic chase, inspiring some of Roach's most fervent, singing breaks, before a return to the opening theme ties it all up.

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