Between its cover shot of the iconic jazz saxophonist in a cowboy outfit, and songs titled “I’m An Old Cowhand,” “Wagon Wheels,” and “Way Out West,” Sonny Rollins’ album Way Out West probably seemed a bit odd when it came out in 1957. Or maybe a bit cheeky. But in the sixty years since it has emerged as one of the sax master’s best. Thankfully, the new Way Out West Deluxe Edition (digital, vinyl) corrects many of the mistakes of previous editions, while adding some welcome new outtakes (and, er, some mistakes) as well.
Featuring Sonny Rollins on tenor sax, Shelly Manne on drums, and Ray Brown on bass, Way Out West was recorded just three months after the sax man made Volume 1 with different people, and five weeks before he and yet another group of musicians would record Volume 2. But it sounded like neither of those albums, in part, of course, because Way Out West features a trio, while Volume 1 and Volume 2 were made by quintets, which makes for a less spartan approach.
But it’s also because the songs “I’m An Old Cowhand,” which opens Way Out West, and “Wagon Wheels” both have Shelly Manne employing percussion bits that sound like a horse trotting…or, to be more precise, like when they knocked coconuts together to make horse trotting sounds in Blazing Saddles.
Not everything on Way Out West has a Western feel, though. While other songs on the album are titled “Way Out West” and “There Is No Greater Love” — the latter of which, I assume, refers to the love of a man and his faithful steed — they have no coconut horses or any other cowboy-esque sounds. And the same goes for the songs “Solitude” and “Come, Gone,” which are just straight jazz tunes. Really good ones — with beautiful melodies and intricate improvisations — but Western-free nonetheless.
Granted, Volume 1 does feature the iconic Max Roach on drums, while Volume 2 boasts Art Blakey in that role, and Thelonious Monk playing piano on two tracks, but Shelly Manne and and Ray Brown not only hold their own on Way Out West, but they perfectly compliment everything Sonny Rollins does on this now classic album. But then, such was the way of Rollins, especially back then, always able to bring out the best of anyone he played with.
As for the version in the Way Out West Deluxe Edition, it’s been newly remastered from the original tapes, and not a moment too soon. Compared to the original CD that came out in 1988, this version sounds much cleaner and warmer. Well, assuming you listen to on a good stereo.
More importantly, the Way Out West Deluxe Edition restores the running order of the original album. When released on CD in 1988, and then again later, the album was augmented with alternate takes of “I’m An Old Cowhand,” “Come, Gone,” and “Way Out West.” Except that instead of putting them on a separate disc, they were placed right after the album version; the exception being the 2010 20-bit CD, which put them at the end of the disc, which is better but still not ideal.
On the Way Out West Deluxe Edition, however, those alternate takes, as well as two new ones — “Come Gone (alternate take)” and “Way Out West (take 1)” — are now on a second disc where they belong. Though, oddly, the “alternate take” version of “Way Out West” comes right after the “take 1” version on the second disc. Even stranger, this companion disc also has two bits of studio banter you’ll maybe want to listen to once out of curiosity’s sake, but never again.
Which means that if you’re going to be listening to this digitally or burning it onto a CD, you’ll want to reconfigure the second disc before adding it to your permanent collection.
Once you do, though, you’ll find there’s a lot of good stuff on the second disc of the Way Out West Deluxe Edition (though, admittedly, the best of it was already on the early, poorly configured versions). “I’m An Old Cowhand (alternate take)” is nearly twice as long as the studio version and the new “take 1”, while “Come, Gone (alternate take) has three more minutes of intricate jamming than the original.
This is not to say the two new outtakes on the Way Out West Deluxe Edition are slouches. Granted, neither are as good as the ones on the regular album, but both “Come Gone (alternate take)” and “Way Out West (take 1)” are different enough, and rock solid on their own, that they’re worth keeping.
In the end, the Way Out West Deluxe Edition would’ve been better if the companion disc had been configured better. But with vastly superior sound, two great new tracks, and the original album restored to its original running order, this is (mostly) how this classic jazz album should’ve been all along.