on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2018 23 Feb

A Cowboy Named Sonny

von: Michael Engelbrecht Filed under: Blog | TB | 1 Comment


Some months ago, a friend asked me about the best-sounding jazz album ever. What a question, I answered. I don‘t know anything about „ever“, but ask me about a certain time. Then he asked me about the best-sounding jazz album of my teenager years, and the best-sounding album „before my time“. Okay, choices made instantly. I said, „Dis“ with Jan Garbarek, Ralph Towner, and the short appearances of a wind harp.

And thinking of the times before my time, I said, „Way Out West“. It was made in the middle of the night on March 7, 1957, in the shipping room of a small Los Angeles record company, with an underpaid engineer recording a trio playing cowboy songs on a first-generation stereo Ampex tape deck through a homemade mixing console. It seems an unlikely setting for one of the greatest jazz recordings of all time, musically and sonically.

But the players were Sonny Rollins and Ray Brown and Shelly Manne, and, on that night, they were cookin’. What seems like strange duo of vinyl albums, makes some extra sense when realizing a strong bond between them: deep relaxation, high intensity, breathing space. Real favourites.

Now, with some studio chatter and unreleased versions, a double vinyl edition of Sonny Rollins’ classic has been published. You don‘t need to have that one, a single vinyl edition is enough to induce addictive deep listening. The sound is dry, but vibrant, the channel separation has its own aura, far away from being one of these minor quibbles in regards of the limitations of early stereo. Come on. It‘s a cracker. Joyful and deep. I was enthusiastic when I spoke about it during a talk with Norwegian master bass player Arild Andersen years ago. He had never heard it, just knew about its existence. Now, finally, he has it at home, and has one word for it: GREAT.


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