In May of 1967, jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins went to Holland to do a show, record some tunes, and play live on TV. All of which was lost to time…”was” being the operative word there. All three performances were recently unearthed, and are now are available as Rollins In Holland (CD, vinyl), a two-disc set that thankfully preserves these no longer “long lost” recordings.
Photo Credit: Toon Fey
Like other American jazz men who traveled overseas, Rollins was joined in Holland — and thus on Rollins In Holland — by two local musicians who were no strangers to backing American jazz men: bassist Ruud Jacobs and drummer Han Bennink, who had previously played with such similarly iconic jazz players as saxophonists Ben Webster and Johnny Griffin, guitarist Wes Montgomery, and trumpeter / flugelhornist Clark Terry.
As for this time with Rollins, that’s initially represented on Rollins In Holland by four tracks they recorded at the Vara Studio in Hilversum on May 5th: “The Blue Room,” “Four,” “Love Walked In,” and “Tune Up.”
As studio sessions go, Rollins In Holland finds the trio being rather conventional. “The Blue Room” opens the disc with Rollins playing in a dreamy, far away way, while Bennink gently brushes his drum kit and Jacobs comes in with some careful bass lines. Then, on the more upbeat “Four,” Sonny plays the melody fast and loose, with both Jacobs and Bennink following suit.
Things on Rollins In Holland continue to be peppy on “Love Walked In,” which takes a similar approach as “Four,” but with a bit more of a swing, save for when Jacobs walks through a brief but careful-sounding solo. The studio sessions then end with “Tune Up,” which starts off upbeat, but mellows out in the middle (relatively speaking), before getting rowdy again during Bennink’s nicely varied and percussive drum solo.
Taken together, the four studio tracks on Rollins In Holland are impressive. Though it is too bad they only recorded four that day. And that they’re not in the best order for listening (mellow is never a good way to open a collection).
Photo Credit: Photographer Unknown; Photo Courtesy of Beeld en Geluid
Moving from the studio to a club, Rollins In Holland next goes to that evening, when Rollins, Jacobs, and Bennink recorded two songs at The Go-Go Club in Loosdrecht — “Sonnymoon For Two” and “Love Walked In” — for the TV show Jazz Met Jacobs(which, interestingly, was hosted by Jacob’s piano playing brother Pim and Pim’s wife, singer Rita Reys).
Not surprisingly, these live tracks are decidedly looser than the studio ones. While the Vara version of “Love Walked In” is a little over six minutes long, for instance, the one from Jazz Met Jacobs is three minutes longer and notably heavier on the improv.
Unfortunately, “Love Walked In” is also rendered unlistenable, at least repeatedly, by someone (Rita, I presume) talking while they trio are still playing. And during a particularly good moment of the song, too. Which is too bad since it was, up to that point, a good rendition of that song, as is “Sonnymoon For Two.”
No matter, there’s plenty of good live music on Rollins In Holland from their May 3rd show at the Academie Voor Beeldende Kunst [The Academy Of Fine Arts] in The Hague. Though as I’m sure many other reviewers of this album will joke, this concert was the furthest thing from a war crime. Instead, it’s a 90-minute free-for-all that ranks among the strongest live recordings Rollins has ever released.
It’s also one of the loosest. Two of the five songs — “Three Little Words” and “Four” — are more than twenty-two minutes long (by comparison, the studio version of latter is just five and a quarter); a third, “Love Walked In,” is nearly twenty minutes long; the jam of “On Green Dolphin Street” into “There Will Never Be Another You” is just a shade shy of fifteen; and mashing of “The Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Sonnymoon For Two” is nine and a half. And while this isn’t unusual for Rollins — the title tracks to both 1958’s The Freedom Suite and 1966’s East Broadway Run Down are nearly twenty minutes long each — it’s still more than we usually heard from Rollins up to that point. (By comparison, most of the songs on Rollin’s 1957 live album, A Night At The Village Vanguard, come in between eight and ten minutes long.)
Photo Credit: Toon Fey
More importantly, it makes for some impressive improvisational runs. Take, for instance, “Three Little Words,” which sounds like Rollins turned to Hennink and Jacobs and said, “Just follow my lead” before doing a cheeky wink and launching into an epic solo which challenged but never defeated his bandmates. And there’s a similar looseness to “Four,” which ends the show in the same loose, off-the-cuff way.
But what really makes the concert part of Rollins In Holland stand out is Bennink’s drumming. Unlike on the studio session and TV appearance, this show has him hitting with such force, and such manic energy, that it sounds like he’s possessed by the spirit of Buddy Rich. This is especially evident during “Love Walked In,” as well as the jam this trio do from “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” into “Sonnymoon For Two.”
Not all of the Academie show on Rollins In Holland is so manic or aggressive, though. While Rollins, Hennink, and Jacobs still sounds like they’re improvising like mad during the jam of “On Green Dolphin Street” and “There Will Never Be Another You,” their playing — both individually and collectively — is relatively less frantic and intense, even with Bennink still being rather Rich-like.
As great as the concert cuts on Rollins In Holland may be, though, there are some unappealing aspects about these tracks. Most notably — though also least importantly, for reasons I’ll get to in a moment — they don’t have the best sound quality. Granted, it’s not as bad as that time I snuck a cassette recorder into R.E.M.’s show at The Centrum in Worcester, but it certainly doesn’t sound like it was recorded on state-of-the-art equipment in 2020. Or even 1957.
That said, you only really notice it at first. By the time “Three Little Words” hit the five-minute mark, I was too entranced by Sonny’s epic sax playing, Hennink’s strong-arm drumming, and Jacobs’ ability to match both on the bass to notice that the sound wasn’t as clean and pristine as it is on A Night At The Village Vanguard.
Also making the Academie part of Rollins In Holland less than stellar is that the end of the “On Green Dolphin Street” / “There Will Never Be Another You” jam is cut off, while the audience is faded out between songs, which ruins the illusion that you’re sitting in the audience, enjoying the show.
Even with these issues, though, the Academie concert on Rollins In Holland is impressive, and showcases a side of Sonny Rollins we haven’t gotten to hear nearly as much as we’d like, now that we’ve gotten a taste. Taken with the different but equally impressive studio session, it makes Rollins In Holland a great souvenir of Sonny’s trip to The Netherlands…one we can all enjoy for, say, the next 53 years or so.