Sonny Rollins
Saxophone Colossus



by DadKungFu CONTRIBUTOR (84 Reviews)
February 24th, 2023 | 3 replies

Release Date: 1957 | Tracklist

Review Summary: “How smooth his motions, like butter on a bald monkey” – Bob the Tomato

So why is it that out of all the great recordings Sonny was producing between ’57 and ’63, Saxophone Colossus is the one that continuously gets singled out as his greatest work? Rollins is no less of a titan of his instrument on Plus 4 or Vol 2., or even the lesser classic Rollins Plays For Bird. And when Plus 4 was recorded a mere three months before this album, how much musical growth can be said to have occurred between those works? A couple keys to the Colossus’ success are proposed then: for one thing, that artwork is absolutely mint, heavy with portentous promise, Rollins’ looming silhouette plus the title making a helluva bold claim that cements the visual side of the album as immediately iconic when compared to the more anonymous design of Plus 4. Second, Rollins has chosen a backing band that retained the smooth genius of Max Roach from previous sessions, and added pianist Tommy Flanagan, who was to go on to contribute to Coltrane’s Giant Steps a mere two years later, along with the then 22-year-old Doug Watkins on Bass, a combo providing as smooth and deft of a support for Sonny’s saxophone as he would ever have in his career at that stage. Thirdly, Saxophone Colossus has Rollins diving headfirst into an endlessly smooth, cool sound that eschews some of the more pointedly rhythmic qualities of Plus 4 in favor of a laid, back easy-going vibe that gives Rollins a more prominent place on center stage, enough space for him to claim, hands down, the title that he’s shooting for.

Three of the five tracks on Saxophone Colossus are penned by Rollins, and that St. Thomas should end up being the biggest standard out of the bunch is maybe a bit of a disservice to the other two, as Strode Rode, and Blue 7, the latter especially, are just as worthy of all the acclaim that Rollins’ take on the traditional calypso melody has received. And St. Thomas, no doubt deserves its status, as a jaunty melody is gently teased and pulled into several directions by the saxophone master. Of course, the majority of the soloing goes to Rollins on this album, but on St. Thomas Roach is given an extended solo that gives his smooth, laid-back style some room to flex a little bit, along with an breezy, cool improvisation from Flanagan on the back half of the track. You Don’t Know What Love Is is a ballad painted in rain-mood shades of, what else, blue, and has Rollins and Flanagan both eliciting some of the deepest emotions possible from their respective instruments. Strode Rode continues the typical bop dynamic in excellent form: Rollins lays down the theme and an opening improvisation of a fast paced, hard-bop melody, and Flanagan lays down a rapid-fire, virtuosic solo that displays all his technical ability while sacrificing none of the smoothness that is drenching the album. The Weill/Brecht standard Moritat is a recognizable tune to almost anyone who’s heard Mack the Knife, here Rollins and company don’t do much new with it beyond an excellent run of scales and solos that don’t do a whole lot more than live up to the standard of the rest of the album.

In a way, the beauty of Saxophone Colossus is that it’s not trying to push any conceptual envelopes or be anything other than a smooth bop showcase of some of the most talented musicians in the game at that time. Rollins pushes very few boundaries here, but his technical ability on his instrument is unmatched except by a very select few, and his compositional abilities, as much as they remain tied to their stylistic framework, are enough to make the self-penned tracks some of the highlights of the style. Ultimately, Saxophone Colossus stands tall among the greats of Jazz music, unimpeachable in execution, and unsurpassed in smooth-bop mood, even if it errs on the side of the musically conservative.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
Contributing Reviewer
February 24th 2023


Album Rating: 4.0

You know, it's been a silly amount of time for this to not have a review

February 24th 2023


Album Rating: 4.5

very silly

Contributing Reviewer
February 26th 2023


Your reviews are so informative it's like reading a music history book. I love it! You are also churning out quality reviews every few days, which is super impressive. Keep it up.

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