When Sonny Rollins Went Dutch

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Han Bennink (left), Sonny Rollins and Ruud Jacobs in concert at the Academie voor Beeldende Kunst in Arnhem, The Netherlands, the evening of May 3, 1967

(Photo: Toon Fey)

“And the drummer had to be not only good with just plain rhythm; he had to accompany everything. He had to fill in where he should be and not be where he shouldn’t be. He had to have plenty of moves, and use plenty of space with just him, the bass player and myself. He didn’t have to fill in every inch of the music, so he could be very, very careful about what he played. But he had to be good enough to really know to play when you’re supposed to play, and not play when you’re not supposed to play.”

Bennink fit the profile perfectly.

“The complete ambiance was so relaxed and at ease,” the drummer, now 78, wrote in an email. “We never had a rehearsal and just played together, having so much fun, as if we had been playing together for ages. It was a natural fit.

“My favorite album still is Sonny’s A Night At The Village Vanguard from 1958. That album brought me so much joy and still does. So, imagine playing with my hero himself nine years later—it was more than wonderful.”

Bennink, who released four albums this year—including a recording with the Instant Composers Pool, which he helped found in 1967—put his experience with the saxophonist into perspective: “What a great time in my life: Now, after 53 years, the recordings made in the Netherlands in 1967 will be released. Wow, what a milestone! Playing with Sonny was a fulfillment of a dream and so very special. It is still unbelievable that it happened. It is a pity that Ruud is not with us anymore to enjoy the release. He played wonderfully.”

The newly discovered recordings were brought to Rollins’ attention via Resonance Records, which released the collection this fall. Rollins In Holland: The 1967 Studio & Live Recordings was made available as a three-LP exclusive set for Record Store Day’s Black Friday event (Nov. 27), with a two-CD version arriving on Dec. 4.

Collectors and disciples of “Newk,” as Rollins commonly is known in jazz circles, will take special interest in these freshly revealed gems, as they represent a period in the saxophonist’s career that largely has gone undocumented until now. Low-fidelity tapes of one of the 1967 Holland shows, a May 3 concert at Arnhem Academy of Visual Arts, have been shared informally by Dutch jazz listeners over the years. But the majority of the material on Rollins In Holland—including a four-song May 5 morning session at the VARA Studio in Hilversum and two live tracks from the group’s gig that night on a TV show presented from the Go-Go Club in Loosdrecht—was only recently unearthed.

Throughout the Rollins In Holland recordings, Bennink and Jacobs deftly follow the saxophonist’s every turn, matching his energy levels over the course of long, take-no-prisoners improvisations on the live tracks and providing subtle yet essential textures during the studio session.

The repertoire on the album consists of straightahead tunes that Rollins had been playing for years as a sideman and leader. At VARA Studio, the group recorded Rogers and Hart’s “Blue Room,” Miles Davis’ “Four,” the Gershwins’ “Love Walked In” and Davis’ “Tune Up.” The live tracks, which have been meticulously restored by George Klabin and Fran Gala at Resonance, include “Four,” “Love Walked In,” Rollins’ “Sonnymoon For Two,” the Gershwins’ “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and the standards “Three little Words” and “On Green Dolphin Street.” Rollins is in top form, the studio recordings revealing his majestic tone, and the live cuts burning with raucous improvisational excitement.

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