Sonny Rollins – Alfie

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  • This Sonny Rollins classic boasts killer Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Though I’ve been playing this album for more than 25 years, for some reason this is only the third copy to ever hit the site 
  • A triumph for Rudy Van Gelder, a Top Impulse title, and as much a showcase for Oliver Nelson (+11) as it is for Sonny Rollins
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Rollins attempts to capture the textures of life through his incisive and energetic playing, his coherent improvisations, and variations on musical themes.”

This album is on the TAS Superdisc list, which is probably what first alerted me to it. I know I was listening to this album 25 years ago, just from the memory of hearing it in the condo I used to live in. It sounded great back then and it sounds even better now! It may just be my personal favorite of all his work.

What makes this album so great? For starters, great players. Kenny Burrell is wonderful as always. Interestingly, I never realized that Roger Kellaway is the pianist on these sessions. I saw him live years ago with Benny Carter (who was 90 at the time) and he put on one of the most amazing performances at the piano I have ever seen. For some reason, he was never able to make it as a recording artist, but the guy is a genius at the keyboard.

Of course, any orchestration by Oliver Nelson is going to be top flight and this is no exception. Two of his records are Must Owns, in my book: Jimmy Smith’s Bashin’ and his own The Blues and the Abstract Truth. No jazz collection without them can be taken seriously.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes back in the day
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments of big band having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above

Heavy Vinyl

There was a 180 gram reissue on Impulse a number of years back. I seem to recall it was awful. Most of the heavy vinyl reissues that Blue Note and Impulse did under their own names were garbage. They were probably a step up from the CDs those labels were making at the time, but none of those pressings have the magic that’s found on originals like this one. 

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Alfie’s Theme 
He’s Younger Than You Are

Side Two

Street Runner With Child
Transition Theme for Minor Blues or Little Malcolm Loves His Dad 
On Impulse 
Alfie’s Theme Differently

Amazon Review

While Sonny Rollins’s saxophone solos epitomized his best free-flowing improvisational ideas, he let the story of Michael Caine’s philandering character determine the mood of this 1966 soundtrack. But knowing the movie’s plot is not essential to hearing how this disc is a unique part of Rollins’s oeuvre. A long-standing individualist, Rollins worked with director Lewis Gilbert to devise a narrative, and then conductor Oliver Nelson wrote arrangements based on his charts.

Rollins is famous for his small groups, but here he leads an 11-piece band and gives considerable space to guitarist Kenny Burrell. The collaboration embellishes Rollins’s playing, which was as strong in the mid-’60s as in his more celebrated years.

And “Alfie’s Theme” has become an unlikely jazz standard. –Aaron Cohen

AMG Review

Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins loaned his flair for the dramatic to the score for the film Alfie, accompanying the story of what the liner notes describe as “the involuntary education of a hipster.” Arranged by Oliver Nelson, the soundtrack follows the character’s evolution from the carefree, rakish Lothario of “Alfie’s Theme” to the contemplative, somewhat broken man reflected in “Alfie’s Theme Differently.” Rollins attempts to capture the textures of life through his incisive and energetic playing, his coherent improvisations, and variations on musical themes. While “Alfie’s Theme” and its variants make the most lasting impression, “He’s Younger Than You Are” is touching, laced with regret. And the sensual, relaxed “On Impulse” has a nice sense of immediacy.

What to Listen For on Alfie

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack the full complement of harmonic information.

In addition, when the top end is lacking, the upper midrange and high frequencies get jammed together — the highs can’t extend up and away from the upper mids. This causes a number of much-too-common problems that we hear in the upper midrange of many of the records we play: congestion, hardness, harshness and squawk. (Painstaking VTA adjustment is absolutely critical if you want your records to play with the least amount of these problems, a subject we discuss in the Commentary section of the site at length.)

Tube smear is common to most pressings from the ’50s and ’60s. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have little or none, yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

Full-bodied sound is especially critical to the horns; any blare, leanness or squawk ruins at least some of the fun, certainly at the louder levels the record should be playing at.

The frequency extremes (on the best copies) are not boosted in any way. When you play this record quietly, the bottom and top will disappear (due to the way the ear handles quieter sounds as described by the Fletcher-Munson curve).

Most records (like most audiophile stereos) are designed to sound correct at moderate levels. Not this album. It wants you to turn it up. Then, and only then, will everything sound completely right musically and tonally from top to bottom.

Background

Alfie is a 1966 album by jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins of music from the film of the same name. The original British film soundtrack featured Rollins with local musicians, including pianist Stan Tracey, who are not heard on this album.

It features performances by Rollins, with Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Cleveland, J.J. Johnson and Roger Kellaway, arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson.

Burt Bacharach was inspired by the film to write the title song, Alfie, which became a top ten hit in the UK for Cilla Black. It subsequently appeared in the US release of the film over the final titles, in a version sung by Cher (produced by Sonny Bono). Later, Dionne Warwick recorded the most popular cover of the song. Bacharach and Hal David received an Oscar nomination for the song.