When critics label Sonny Rollins the "greatest living saxophonist," they use the term as much to invoke history as to reflect present-day considerations. No surprise there; the music Rollins created from the early 1950s through the mid-60s stands with the greatest jazz ever recorded and, not incidentally, traces what may be the genre's most fulfilling, journey of artistic self-discovery. But even without the historiographic hyperbole--even if he'd been dropped from the sky last week--Rollins would stand among the most beguiling of modem jazzmen, at once whimsical, authoritative, emotive, and possessed of a towering musical intellect. These days it all comes wrapped in a bouncy humanism, a typicallly unexpected reaction to our Age of Cynicism (in much the same way the occasionally sardonic wit of his 1950s recordings responded to that conformist, blinkered decade). The change is reflected in his tone: once hard and faceted like a diamond, it is now by turns sweetly cajoling, garrulously guttural, and brightly impatient, like the voice of a wise and well-traveled uncle. He still spews out long, ferocious solos with juggernaut intensity, shaming musicians half his age and making the rest of us feel half our own. Thursday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666 or 435-8122.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Laren Deutsch.