The Bridge - Sonny Rollins

The Bridge - Sonny Rollins
"Take me to the bridge!" - James Brown

The hardest working man in show business knew where it was at (in more ways than one). The Bridge, ' landmark "comeback" album after his self-imposed exile, is the album I'd put at the top of my indispensable list for Sonny<. From the opening bars of Without A Song you know you're in for a treat: Sonny's expansive and rich tone - tasteful, minimalist entrance - Ben Riley's dancing brushwork and Bob Cranshaw's loping bass all set a cool, comfortable tone for the masterful record that follows. Rollins takes a brief yet elegant cadenza after Hall's solo that leads perfectly back into the theme. Hall's solo itself builds nicely from concise single note statements to wonderfully constructed chord solo that shows that he's a player to be reckoned with, with overstating the point. The kind of playing that makes The Bridge the essential Jim Hall album for me as well.

Where Are You
and God Bless the Child are classic Rollins ballads - brimming with the full, liquid, singing tone that came to characterize such works of Sonny's in the 60s. In Where Are You, Rollins glides in after the guitar solo for a gorgeous legato duet with Hall that leads us gracefully back to the melody, with the rhythm section rejoining. Again (as in Without A Song) Sonny manages to keep the melody ever-present and close at hand during his somewhat sparing solo - a solo that's not lacking, but just enough. God Bless the Child is tailor-made for Rollins - his interpretation of this tune here is perhaps the only one that rivals the ennui of Billie Holiday's version. Once more, he makes very effective use of legato duet passages with Hall - keeping a slow tempo completely engaging with astute orchestral choices and lines steeped in the melody of the tune.

The intriguing fragmented line of John S. perfectly sets the stage for Sonny's subsequent solo. He and the band brilliantly build up the momentum during this solo - which starts from a germ of an idea in Rollins' opening phrases/motifs - a solo that creates the sensation that the tempo is accelerating throughout, as Rollins slowly and deftly builds the energy without ever sounding the slightest bit strained.

The effortlessness continues as Rollins rips into The Bridge - the album's uptempo number. The head and early solo choruses are punctuated with lapses into three which Sonny uses the explore a descending, cascading motif that creates wonderful opportunities to create and release tension, contrasting with the simmering uptempo 4/4 portions of the tune. Rollins exploits these opportunities well, closing his solo out with a return to this motif - as in God Bless the Child Rollins' affinity for the melody underlies his entire solo, and pervades the whole piece.

You Do Something To Me returns to the cool, in-the-pocket loping groove of the opener, reinforcing the sense of an effortlessly intense performance that characterizes this whole record. Having been introduced to Sonny Rollins through his Village Vanguard recordings, I tend to see any other Sonny recordings through the lens of that album. The Vanguard sets have a different, more obvious kind of energy - a more palpable, visceral feel - as do most records with Elvin Jones (not that Wilbur Ware doesn't contribute to this, as well). What's interesting about The Bridge is the superficially calm nature of the music, music that's simmering with intensity, energy and creativity. Turn it up a bit, it's just as smokin' as the Vanguard, just in it's own more quiet way.

The Bridge (RCA Victor LPM 2527)
January 30 & February 13 & 14, 1962

A full take of the quartet smokin' though the title cut on Jazz Casual (check the interplay between Rollins & Hall after the drum solo):

More on "the Bridge" period - some words from Sonny himself, and footage of the quartet burnin' it up: