Music Reviews

Sonny Rollins: “Freedom Weaver” Review


Like a lot of jazz musicians from the 1950s and ’60s, iconic saxophonist Sonny Rollins had more success in Europe at that time than he did in his native America.

So much so, in fact, that he, like them, often had European concerts broadcast on the radio, while also visiting the radio and TV stations for in-studio performances. Performances that, thanks to different (read: lax) copyright laws, were later released on LP and CD despite not being sanctioned by Mr. Rollins.

Well, now fans of Rollins can enjoy them, and guilt free, thanks to Freedom Weaver: The 1959 European Tour Recordings (CD, digital, vinyl), which presents twenty-five songs, and one short interview, from February 21st through March 11th of 1959, which were originally recorded by European radio and television stations.

Sonny Rollins Freedom Weaver

Pete La Roca, Henry Grimes, Sonny Rollins
Photo Credit: © Jean-Pierre Leloir


Much like similar collections from The Jimi Hendrix Experience (BBC Sessions), R.E.M. (R.E.M. At The BBC), and Led Zeppelin (The Complete BBC Sessions), Freedom Weaver includes a mix of one-off performances, small sets of three or five songs, and a couple (relatively) longer shows.

Freedom Weaver also has Rollins working with a trio, and with a trio of drummers. While all of the tracks feature bassist Henry Grimes (who previously played with Rollins on 1958’s Brass & Trio, and would join him again for 1963’s Sonny Meets Hawk!), the drummers were Pete La Rocca (whose previous live album with Rollins, 1957’s A Night At The Village Vanguard, was itself recently reissued), Joe Harris (best known for his work with Dizzy Gillespie), and Kenny Clarke (who played with Rollins and Miles Davis for Bags’ Groove).

Now, as I mentioned, for many of the recording sessions on Freedom Weaver, Sonny and his trio did just a couple songs. But they also didn’t play them for very long, since these performances were for radio or TV consumption. Hence why many of these songs clock in at around or less than 5 minutes long.

But within these small gems are some bright moments (sorry). A March 5th radio session in Switzerland, for instance, has a quick but cool version of “Oleo” that’s a little over 3 minutes long, as well as an equally good but only slightly longer version of “It Could Happen To You.”

Thankfully, Sonny and Co. did occasionally get more room to move on some of the shows included on Freedom Weaver, and it is during these sessions that they truly shined.

The first of these is a March 4th session for Swedish radio featuring La Roca on drums (not to be confused with session recorded that same day, at a theater called Sodra Teatern, and with Harris on drums).

Recorded without an audience cheering them on, this 40 minute long session still had Rollins, Grimes, and La Roca ripping their way through (relatively) short but sweet takes on “There Will Never Be Another You,” “Stay Sweet As You Are,” “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star,” and “Oleo.” But the highlights are the longer, more improv-heavy takes on “How High’s The Moon” (which fades out after 10:44, leaving us to wonder what came next) and “Paul’s Pal,” both of which have rather sublime bass solos by Grimes.

Sonny Rollins, Henry Grimes, Pete La Roca
Photo Credit:  © Ed van der Elsken / Nederlands Fotomuseum


Though the best part of Freedom Weaver comes at the end, when Rollins, Grimes, and Clarke played live at the Hot Club d-Aix in Aix-en-Provence, France on March 11th. And with an audience.

While it consists of just three songs (“Woody ‘N’ You,” “But Not For Me,” and “Lady Bird”), this show lasts around 50 minutes, with all three stretching past the 15 minute mark, and it’s that extra room — and all the smooth but intricate improvisation that comes with it — that makes this show not just the best part of Freedom Weaver, but one of Rollins’ best live recordings.

It also helps that this show, like much of Freedom Weaver, was recorded professionally, and thus has sound quality that rivals those other great live recordings, including the aforementioned A Night At The Village Vanguard.

The exception to this are the three songs from Holland on February 21st (“I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star,” “I Want To Be Happy,” and “A Weaver Of Dreams”) and the four from Germany on March 9th (“It Don’t Mean A Thing,” “Cocktails For Two,” “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star,” and “I Want To Be Happy”), the former of which sound like they’re copies of copies of professional recordings, while the latter sound like they’re two more generations below that.

And while this might make some skip the German recordings after they’ve heard them once, the sound quality of the Holland sessions are on par with the live concert from Rollins In Holland, and given how quickly I acclimated to that live album’s slightly rough sound quality…

But then, Freedom Weaver is probably not the kind of thing you’ll listen to all in a row. Rather, you’ll pull what you like into iTunes or whatever and not worry about the rest. For me, it’s the Swedish radio session from March 4th and the French concert from March 11th. Your mileage may differ.

Sonny Rollins Freedom Weaver

Regardless of how you listen to Freedom Weaver: The 1959 European Tour Recordings, though, trust me as a fellow Sonny Rollins fan when I say that yes, you will listen to it. And often. And not feel guilty about it, either.

SCORE: 8.5/10



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