The exhilaration of the opening bars of "I'm Old Fashioned" was a very high note to start on last night at Blues Alley. That the remainder of the 75-minute set maintained that joyous mood was a mark of the life force that permeates the music of Sonny Rollins. Playing at the top of his form, the legendary tenor-saxophonist stretched out on three selections, each of which contained more creativity than many players offer in an evening.
Rollins' lightness of tone was augmented by rafter-shaking dips into the belly of his horn. On one epic solo he seemed never to draw a breath or to run out of ideas, and he always pulled the line back to the thematic center.
A lyrical bent was showcased on a rhapsodic "My One and Only Love," but the centerpiece of the program was the calypso "Don't Stop the Carnival," on which the saxophonist's abandon inspired trombonist Clifton Anderson to cut loose with a riveting solo that applied high technique to melodic economy. Anderson, pianist Mark Soskin, electric bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Tomby Cambell necessarily played supporting roles to the leader. But their contributions were of a very high order.