Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins's performance at Lisner Auditorium Saturday night wasn't a concert so much as an exhilarating tour de force.
The program was pure Rollins -- a combustible mixture of sentimental pop standards ("Long Ago and Far Way"), unlikely cover tunes ("Tennessee Waltz"), challenging jazz classics ("Tenor Madness") and infectious calypsos ("St. Thomas"), all played with commanding power, invention and finesse. No question about it: To hear Rollins append "Someone to Watch Over Me" with a passionate, soulful and seemingly unstoppable coda (briefly leavened with just a hint of "Camptown Races") was to witness one of the great jazz masters at work.
On the downside, the sound mix was muffled at times, and when Rollins let the members of his sextet stretch out, the results were often far less compelling. Truth is, on record and on stage in recent years, Rollins's massive tone and extraordinary drive tends to dwarf his surroundings. Drummer Al Foster was in typically virile form, though, whether engaging Rollins in feisty exchanges or prodding him with ride cymbal and snare into a series of increasingly incendiary choruses on "Tenor Madness." Another big plus was trombonist Clifton Anderson, whose sleek tone and phrasing contributed to the evening's lyrical highlights.