Sonny Rollins Newk's Time in 45

Newk's Time was the third of four albums that Sonny Rollins recorded for Blue Note, and it's the second reissued by Music Matters Jazz, the audiophile house that does up the Blue Note classics right, each title mastered at 45rpm and spread out across two extremely quiet slabs of vinyl. MMJ has already released Sonny Rollins, Vol. 1. That leaves Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2 and Night at the Village Vanguard (itself a 2-volume album). I hope they put them out too at some point. If they do (does this need to be said?), get them all.

Rollins was signed to Blue Note in 1956–57, one of several transitional periods and an almost absurdly prolific one. He recorded not only the four Blue Notes but also Saxophone Colossus and Freedom Suite for Prestige, Way Out West for Contemporary, and over a dozen sessions as sideman, for various labels, with Miles Davis, Max Roach, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Dorham, and Abbey Lincoln. Listening to all these albums (for the most part, a riveting experience), you can hear the subtle-then-transformative changes in Rollins' sound—and thus in modern jazz itself.

Newk's Time is particularly revealing in this sense. There's a warmth to his tone, almost a mellowness, laced not quite with a vibrato (he would never do a full Coleman Hawkins, though he was flirting with that husky romanticism around this time), but with a wisp of air in his mouthpiece at the end of a phrase. Yet Rollins' phrases are also fleeter than before, extending scales and arpeggios much farther out and taking much sharper Alpine twists; he's rivaling Coltrane, with whom he had a high-profile rivalry, for sheets-of-sound speed, though Rollins sprints and dances more insouciantly.

The sound, by Rudy Van Gelder, is terrific, one of his early stereos, recorded in his parents' living room in Hackensack. This is one of Rollins' best-sounding horns on record (exceeded only by the Contemporary LPs and Our Man in Jazz on RCA). Even the piano, by Wynton Kelly, sounds less hooded than on several RVGs, Doug Watkins' bass has a wood vibration, and Philly Joe Jones' drums slam and shimmer.

There's a very good-sounding CD of this album, put out in 2004 on EMI/Blue Note's RVG Editions series, but it's not as vivid or dynamic as these LPs.

suburbangregpgh's picture

Fred, You do your readers a disservice by not mentioning the left channel cutout of the cymbals on this record. At first I though it was a bad pressing, but after talking to the folks at Music Matters it turns out that RVG was adjusting the mic as Rollins was walking around the room, and it caused an anomally in the recording. Personally I think its cool to hear that as a recording artifact, but if I hadn't been able to find that out I'd have been pissed that I'd just dropped $50 on the record. 


Fred Kaplan's picture

Greg - Are you kidding? The "big" problem you refer to lasts for a few seconds on one or two tracks. It's barely noticeable. In fact, I have to confess, I didn't notice it until I went back to take a listen after reading your note, and it's still barely noticeable. (And I like to think I pay attention to these things. My system, in case you're wondering: VPI Classic, Lyra Delos cartridge, Nagra BPS battery-powered phono preamp, Simaudio 700i amp, Revel Studio 2 speakers, Nirvana cable.) The important things are these: (1) The music is great; (2) it sounds way better than any other available version (I haven't heard the original pressing, and good luck finding one for anywhere close to $50); (3) the sound (and yes, sound is important to me) of Sonny's horn is tremendous, one of the best on any Rollins record...Fred Kaplan

suburbangregpgh's picture

Fred, No, I'm not kidding. I don't disagree that its all of those things - a terrific record and I'd reccomend it to anyone, but those drop outs are noticible and they appear more often that one or two tracks. I didn't call it a "big" problem, it just seems like the kind of thing someone dropping $50 on a record would want to know about in a review, that's all.

Regards, Greg

DetroitVinylRob's picture

Maybe more importantly was "Music Matters Jazz, the audiophile house that does up the Blue Note classics right, each title mastered at 45rpm and spread out across two extremely quiet slabs of vinyl" ...unlike Acoustic Sounds releases by Chad Kassem who blazed the path (100 Fantasy titles) and wrote the book on Blue Note (2xLp) 45RPM reissues??? Grasshopper, quickly as you can, snatch the pebble from my hand.

Maybe more to the Point, the nickname "Newk" was given to Sonny as Miles Davis pointed out in his autobiography: "Sonny had just got back from playing a gig out in Chicago. He knew Bird, and Bird really liked Sonny, or "Newk" as we called him, cause he looked like the Brooklyn Dodgers' pitcher Don Newcombe. One day, me and Sonny were in a cab...when the white cabdriver turned around and looked at Sonny and said, `Damn, you're Don Newcombe!'' Man, the guy was totally excited. I was amazed, because I hadn't thought about it before. We just put that cabdriver on something terrible. Sonny started talking about what kind of pitches he was going to throw Stan Musial, the great hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals, that evening..." Cool

Maybe amazing, Theodore Walter Rollins, "Newk" was twenty-seven years old when he blew, leading this solid quartet of Wynton Kelly on piano, Doug Watkins on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. And only about six months on the heels of "Way Out West". Not to shabby.

Happy Listening!

Fred Kaplan's picture

As readers know, I am also a big fan of Acoustic Sounds, have praised many of its releases (and will soon say some very wide-eyed things about its new Quality pressings). My description of MMJ was meant, in part, as just that - a description. That company reissues ONLY Blue Note classics, the pressings are unusually (and consistently) very quiet, and the gatefold covers, with fastidious attention to capturing the precise colors and contrasts of the originals, are swoon-worthy. 

Fred Kaplan's picture

I should also note, as I have noted in previous postings, that I admire MMJ's devotion to the more adventurous, less commercial Blue Note titles (not just to the chestnuts)...Fred Kaplan