Road Shows, Vol. 3 (Live)
Sonny Rollins has been famously critical of his playing in the studio. He has finally just sidestepped the process altogether with the Road Shows series, which collects strong versions of songs from various live concerts around the world. While the first one spanned 27 years and the second one focused on 2010 and included material from his 80th-birthday concert, this one finds the saxophone colossus circa 2001-2012 with his sextet of rotating but regular players. Rollins is famous for his mastery of thematic improvisation, which often incorporates melodies from different songs, and fans get an unadulterated dose of this on the eight-and-half-minute “Solo Sonny.” But it’s the lengthy “Why Was I Born” where the saxophonist is at his zenith, gleefully trading twos with drummer Steve Jordan in a duel that could have gone on forever. Along with a mix of standards and originals, Rollins always seems to include a calypso in his shows; things close out with a brief but rewarding take on the classic “Don’t Stop the Carnival.” A recording of Rollins happy and in full flight, this is the next best thing to being there.