The renaissance responsible for bringing new prominence and popularity to Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon in recent years has been one of the more encouraging developments in jazz. Among other things, it has allowed each an opportunity to record frequently, in a variety of contexts and with musicians of their own choosing. Of the three, Rollins has pursued the most controversial and erratic route; but then he always has. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone following his career over the past five years to learn that the Rolling Stones recently recruited him for session work. Since emerging from the last of his self-imposed sabbaticals in the early '70s, Rollins has experimented frequently with rock rhythms and electric accompaniment.
The latest example is "Love At First Sight" (Milestone 9098). Backed by a quartet featuring pianist George Duke and bassist Stanley Clarke, Rollins' large muscular sax tone often sounds misplaced amid the shimmering electronics.
The album opens beautifully, though, with a breezy calypso called "Little Lu," reminiscent of another Rollins' tune, "St. Thomas." The brief staccato figure comprising the theme is extended by Rollins into long, flowing phrases that gently turn back on themselves. Duke's Latin interlude is fully in keeping with Rollins' wishes, and Clarke, alternating between near-acoustic subtleties and fat, chunk bass lines, add several nice touches of his own.
Of the five remaining selections, however, only two compare favorably with the first. "Strode Rode" is a churning blues Rollins often performs in concert.Al Foster, his regular drummer, surges with energy on it, trading a flurry of fours with Rollins as the piece winds its way home. Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You" evokes memories of Rollins' '50s balladry. Apart from capping an occasionaly phrase with an emphatic honk, he reshapes the melody with his generous tone, confident yet soft around the edges.
Dizzy Gillespie's concerts rank with those of Rollins' as one of the enduring pleasures of jazz. Nowhere is that more apparent (on record at least) than on "Dizzy Gillespie Digital at Montreux, 1980" (Pablo 2308226). Apparently, it's been Norman Granz's desire for some time to team Gillespie up with Toots Thielemans on guitar. Thielemans is better known for his jazz harmonica, but his guitar technique, full of spacious chords and ringing accents, remains untarnished.Drummer Bernard (Pretty) Purdie completes this unusual trio and it is his offbeat, rhythmically challenging input that seems too inspire Gillespie most often.
The Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin piece "Christopher Columbus" is certainly powered by Purdie's pressed syncopations. The jazz/funk flavor he and Gillespie impart to the tune occasionally recalls some of Miles Davis' early '70s recordings. Gillespie's highflying sorties, however, are unmistakably his own. They often begin near the top of the register and descend circuitously before leveling off for another flight.
It is a pattern he also uses on the blues, "Sitting on Top of the World."
Gillespie has never thought of himself as a blues player, preferring the sound of, say, Hot Lips Page over his own.
It's an opinion not easily squared with his performance on this record, though. His good-natured singing is a delight; his trumpet, riding high over Thielemans' earthly progressions, is full of fire and mischief.
By comparison, Dexter Gordon's "Gotham City" is considerably less adventurous. Once again, Gordon is reunited with some of the finest jazz musicians; this time it's art Blakey, Cedar Walton, Percy Heath, Woody Shaw and George Benson who keep him company at various times.
As All-star sessions go, "Gotham City" falls short of achieving the combustible energy which made Gordon's 1979 album "Great Encounters" so enjoyable. Still, "Gotham City" has many charms and they surface immediately on the classic opening track, "Hi Fly." Written by Heath and Randy Weston, the tune provides Gordon, Benson and Walton with a strong harmonic base on which to improvise. The full potential of the album, though, is finally realized when Gordon and Shaw ride Blakey's furious drumming on the hard-bop express "The Blues Walk (Loose Talk)." Jazz doesn't get much better than that.