- This Sonny Rollins classic finally returns to the site boasting superb sound on both sides of this original Impulse stereo pressing
- A triumph for Rudy Van Gelder, a Top Impulse Title, and as much a showcase for Oliver Nelson 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.”
- If you’re a fan of Sonny Rollins, this Impulse from 1966 surely belongs in your collection.
This album is on the TAS Super Disc list, which is probably what first alerted me to it. I know I was listening to this album decades 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.
This vintage Impulse pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What The Best Sides Of Alfie 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 in 1966
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments 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 qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.
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 their full complement of harmonic information.
Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.
Size and Space
One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.
And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.
What We’re Listening For On Alfie
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight, full-bodied bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.
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.
He’s Younger Than You Are
Street Runner With Child
Transition Theme for Minor Blues or Little Malcolm Loves His Dad
Alfie’s Theme Differently
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
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.
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.