Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins remains an irresistible force of nature who is best heard in live concert settings where his exuberant, impassioned solos can blow an audience away.
"Road Shows, Vol. 2," which consists of tracks recorded at concerts in Japan and from Rollins' September 2010 80th birthday concert in New York, finds the jazz legend upping his game, pushed by guest soloists, trumpeter Roy Hargrove and alto saxophonist and free jazz visionary Ornette Coleman.
Rollins uses a familiar standard as a launching pad for his elongated, inventive improvisations on the opening track, an uptempo version of Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful." He is supported by one of his tightest touring bands of recent years, trading licks with the young drummer Kobie Watkins and guitarist Russell Malone. Rollins sits out the next track, a subdued take on "In a Sentimental Mood," performed by guitarist Jim Hall, his partner on the 1962 album, "The Bridge."
The album's centerpiece is the nearly 22-minute blues "Sonnymoon For Two," marking the first time longtime friends Rollins and Coleman have performed together in public. It begins with Rollins stretching out with bassist Christian McBride and fellow octogenarian, drummer Roy Haynes, in the piano-less trio format the saxophonist favored on some of his classic, late 1950s albums. Coleman makes his unannounced entrance just under the nine-minute mark, launching into one of his abstract solos with asymmetric melodic phrases, yet rooted in the blues. As they trade solos, Rollins' playing goes more outside, until they climax in a frenzied unison outburst.
Hargrove and Rollins cool things down by embracing the lush ballad "I Can't Get Started," but then engage in some spirited call-and-response on Billy Strayhorn's "Rain Check." An abbreviated version of Rollins' joyful calypso "St. Thomas" provides an encore.
Unlike "Road Shows, Vol. 1" (2008), which offered live performances spanning 1980 to 2007, Rollins has blended together a more cohesive sequel from concerts recorded a month apart that show why he remains the "Saxophone Colossus."
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "Sonnymoon For Two" is a historic recording with its first-time matchup of the two greatest living jazz saxophonists, each soloing in his own distinctive style and supported by an all-star rhythm section.