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4.6 out of 5 stars
Way Out West
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2000
Format: Audio CD
This cd is packed with timeless music. Rollins' performance on this classic from 1957 not only solidified him as one of the greatest tenors of his generation, but, along with all of the other material from his illustrious fifty plus year career, has stood the test of time to make him one of the all-time greatest musicians regardless of style. Backed by a duo of legends in bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne, Rollins cooks from beginning to end. He is in prime form, still a relativly unknown tenor when this album came out, he plays like a man ahead of his years. Sonny's tone is hard, percussive, rasping, and even playful, a full spectrum of colors and moods. What makes this a truly great album is that every single note Rollins plays is a highlight. His soloing stands up to repeated listening and rewards the effort with something new each time through. Manne and Brown contribute fantastic performances of their own, matching Rollins by producing phenominal solos of their own. Even the usually aggravating practice of sticking alternate takes behind the originals hardly makes a difference. Rollins, Manne, and Brown are so brimming with ideas, the longer alternates offer the listener just that much more of a good thing. This is one of those albums that needs to be in every jazz collection, even the cover photo is a classic. Buy this cd if you do not already own it, you will not be dissapointed.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2005
Format: Audio CD
Believe it or not, this reviewer has been a Jazz fan for years and surprisingly had never heard anything by Sonny Rollins until this week with the purchase of "Way Out West". I must say that listening to this album was like unlocking a door to a mansion (like my discovering of John Coltrane was) and there definitely will be more Sonny albums making their way to my collection soon.

With that out of the way, onto the music itself: "Way Out West" was recorded in 1957 and finds Rollins playing in a piano-less trio backed only by bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne. The liner notes to the album state that the three musicians hadn't played together before until this recording session. You'd never know it by listening to this album though. Rollins, Brown and Manne play off each other effortlessly and are like six hands in a glove. It's as if they'd played together for years.

On the upbeat tracks, "I'm an Old Cowhand", "Come Gone" and the title track, Rollins and his trio really swing and leave plenty of space for improvisation and soloing. "Come Gone" is an especially prime example of this.

The same can be said for the slower ballad-oriented pieces. Sonny's take on Duke Ellington's "Solitude" is superb and soothing and is a real standout. "Wagon Wheels", while not neccesarily a ballad, is also a standout with its mid-tempo blues-like runs.

Besides the original tracks that made up the album, there are also three alternate takes tacked on as bonus tracks. The alternate version of "I'm An Old Cowhand" is arguably stronger than its master take and is also twice as long running at 10 minutes rather than five and a half. The alternates of "Come Gone" and the title track are performed in such a way that they almost become different pieces of music altogether. Rollins solo in the alternate "Come Gone" is more raspy and edgy which gives the impression that this take was recorded live in a club rather than a studio. It's fabulous too.

With that said, "Way Out West" is an excellent first choice for the emerging Sonny Rollins fan. The playing is excellent and the musicianship is flawless. The only minor complaint is that the bonus alternate takes are presented on the CD after their master take counterparts (example: The master take of I'm An Old Cowhand is immediately followed by its alternate take as is "Come, Gone" and "Way Out West"). They should have been sequenced at the end of the disc following the original album tracks. Apart from that, who really cares? This is a great album with great music on it.

Essential!!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2001
Format: Audio CD
Next to Saxophone Colossus, don't pass up this recording if you want excellent Rollins for your collection. Years ago, I bought this on a recommendation from a friend. Having never listened to Rollin's before, I was pretty floored! I still am every time I listen to it, which (at least to me), is a testament to the recording's magic and longevity.
Rollins was absolutely incandecent on "Come, Gone" and "There is No Greater Love". He also really injects some very wry, swinging humor into his renditions of "I'm An Old Cowhand", "Wagon Wheels" and "Way Out West". The man's artistic genius and humanity really shine in this recording. Highly recommended!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2000
Format: Audio CD
Sonny was in his absolute prime when he cut Way Out West. No tennor ever had a better tone than "Newk", and that includes some very exclusive company, (Clotrane, Getz, Shorter, etc.) The painstaking remastering job here brings out the brillance of his majestic sound. To me Sonny's pharsing has always had the same inherent rhythem as the great post-war singers like Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Without a single bad note or overstated pharse, Way Out West is some of the best hard-bop you'll ever hear. Fortunately Sonny is still going strong and at seventy-something he is still producing vital music for us to enjoy.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
I wanted to celebrate the Fourth of July by remembering the the unique creativity of American jazz. I first read a recent new short book by Kevin Whitehead about this American art form. Why Jazz?: A Concise Guide. Whitehead's book highly praises Sonny Rollins' 1957 album "Way out West" which is in my collection. I hadn't heard it for awhile. Therefore, I decided to rehear it in celebration of the American culture that American independence ultimately helped to bring about.

Way out West is a classic recording in every way, including the cover photo by William Claxton which shows Rollins dressed as a gunslinger in the desert holding his saxophone. The recording has been reissued many times. I am reviewing the most recent reissue in 2010, which has not been reviewed on Amazon before now. But the prior 1991 reissue garnered many exellent Amazon reviews from which I learned a great deal. In 1988, reissues of this recording began to include three alternative takes not included in the 1957 initial release, substantially expanding the length of the recording.

Way out West was recorded shortly after Rollins' famous album "Saxophone Collossus" and has unfortunately tended to remain in its shadow. It was a pioneering recording in its own right. Rollins did not use the piano and the opportunity for chordal background it afforded. Instead, the recording consisted of the trio of Rollins, tenor saxophone, Ray Brown, bass, and Shelly Manne, drums. The small combo and the absence of piano allowed for a tighter sound and increased opportunity for improvisation.

The album gets its theme from three "western" tracts in which Rollins shows his ability to make imaginative, appealing music from trite material.There is great improvisatory fantasy along with humor in these songs. In the well-known "I'm and old Cowhand" by Johnny Mercer, Rollins' has much fun with the melody as he embellishes it with sudden low tones, runs, and squacks. He takes a long solo with extended runs. The clop-clop sound of the percussion adds a great deal. The next song "Wagon Wheels" is a hokey tune with a slow mellow saxophone line embellished by Brown's walking bass and a flashy drum solo. The final western song, "Way out West" is a Rollins composition embellished for all it is worth. In his book cited above, Whitehead discusses this piece as follows (p. 79):

"The tune 'Way out West' ambles at a leisurely horseback lope and conveys the easy melodicism of a kid's song,ending with a paraphrase of Bing Crosby's 'Swinging on a Star'. But the 20-bar tune takes some weird turns, touching on several keys and all 12 notes in the chromatic scale. In his solo, Rollins deconstructs its rhythms and melody in a way that's somehow good-natured and corrosive at once. That's very Monk-like. as is his appreciation for space. Rollins trills at length, barks out phrases, slurs and distorts his line, harps on a couple of braying figures, and shows off a gloriously bleating tone."

The remaining three songs show different sides of Rollins. "Come, Gone" is Rollins' own virtuoso composition with long, soaring uptempo lines for his saxophone with flashy solos for both bass and drums. "There is no greater love" is a slow deeply-felt religious ballad. "Solitude" is a Duke Ellington composition, much recorded, which receives a lyrical reading from the Rollins trio.

I was happy to use Independence Day to think about the freedoms we enjoy and the creativity freedom has allowed, as shown by Sonny Rollins in his "Way out West" album and, broadly, by American jazz. In its rambunctiousness, discipline, and iconoclasm, the music is an important part of American experience.

Robin Friedman
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2007
Format: Audio CD
This album is routinely mentioned as a classic and one of Sonny Rollins's best. For whatever reason, that acclaim doesn't translate into the same popularity attained by Saxophone Colossus. Nevertheless, if you like Sonny Rollins's playing or jazz from the mid-to-late 50s then you should definitely put this one in your shopping cart.

Sonny was one of the big innovators of the saxophone trio format -- saxophone, bass, drums -- and this was his first recording with such a lineup. Getting rid of the piano has several implications. The first is that the harmonies become a lot less obvious to the listener without the piano banging out the chords every few seconds. The second is that there's a lot more pressure on the musicians --- particularly the saxophonist, but also the bassist -- to generate interest without using piano solos as a crutch. There's a lot more space to be filled in, and in the hands of lesser musicians this space would turn into gaping holes.

Fortunately, Sonny Rollins is one of jazz's greatest improvisers. The fact that he doesn't have to share solo space with a pianist on this recordings means he can let loose some brilliant, unfettered and uninterrupted improvisations. There's a LOT of Sonny's playing on this album. Sonny's notorious for the humor/wit in his playing and there's a ton of that here.

Sonny's companions on this date for Contemporary Records were bassist Ray Brown and drummer Shelly Manne. Manne was one of the premier drummers on the west coast and appeared on a lot of Contemporary sessions. Manne wasn't a "power drummer" like most of the drummers that appeared on Sonny's east coast recordings (Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach). That means that he's content to be an accompanist rather than an almost equal partner a la Max Roach.

The compositions offer a nice amount of variety. "I'm an Old Cowhand" is the kind of semi-cheesy tune that Sonny specializes at transforming and gives the album a great start. "Come, Gone" is just straight-up fast bebop. "Solitude" and "There Is No Greater Love" are intense ballad performances. "Wagon Wheels" is a medium-tempo jam, and "Way Out West" closes the album on a jaunty note. The overall mood is more mellow and introverted than Saxophone Colossus; the album was recorded in the middle of the night, so this is not surprising.

One annoying thing about some versions of this album is that the alternate takes are placed in the middle of the album (immediately following the masters), destroying the album's original sequence. I recommend looking for the now-out-of-print 20 bit remaster or any other version that places the alternates at the end of the album, where they belong. The alternate takes are actually fascinating to explore once you get to know the original album, as two of the tunes are given much longer explorations.

This album is highly recommended and an essential part of any collection. If you like Sonny in a trio format, other albums to check out are A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note), The Freedom Suite (Riverside/OJC), and East Broadway Rundown (Impulse!). I'm probably forgetting some others. And of course, if you haven't heard Saxophone Colossus, be sure to pick that one up.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2005
Format: Audio CD
The freshness of this enchanting CD cut in a few hours is like a mirage. Beautiful and temporary while leaving an impact.
The motiff and location of the Wild West as the idea of Cowboy Rollins on the CD cover and the sense of wilderness felt in the pure uncluttered music reveals a spacious quality as the jagged flowing pointed playing of Rollins,accompanied here with a bass player and drummer makes a statement of clear distinct music. The sparseness and texture of the emptiness of a desert/LA in the 1950's, as distinct from the hustle of a New York or Chicago, serves as a backdrop to Rollins's music here while the choice of compositions was well intended as a return to nature and basic heartfelt playing.
A few swinging Cowboy Western style tunes with Lincoln County imagery, some compositions in the ballad form, even a dreamy Ellington cover of Solitude (lost and stranded in a desert?),with many alternate takes, makes this CD both a lengthy one, and a worthy piece of music somehow unique coming from a great sax player and this stripped down band.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2006
Format: Audio CD
Sonny Rollins, Ray Brown and Shelly Mann are all superb on this 71 minute album. It comprises 6 tunes; three of which have alternate takes added as bonus tracks. The originals and alternates are similarly compelling. Although my personnal favourite is Wagon Wheels, all 9 tracks are excellent.

The uncanny sense of space and the Western mood created by the trio make the cd great listening.

I am a big fan of Sonny Rollins and his happy, muscular, witty, rich and edgy sound. This album sees all three musicians in marvellous form, with the rhythm section brilliantly creating the illusion of movement.

I would recommend this as THE album to buy to begin a Sonny Rollins collection.

No words can adequately describe the treat that awaits you; however some may point in the right direction. They are; lyrical, witty, warm and imaginative. Way Out West is most original and is one of my favourite cds.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2006
Format: Audio CD
It's Sonny Rollins trio. Can somebody play better in late 50's ? And perfect production too. Like band's playing in my living room. I love similar productions, it's the best in jazz. Only two songs are composed by Rollins, but no problem in his music is essantial his solo playing. No highlights, whole album is perfect with beautiful resourceful playing. Must for any true jazz fan.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2013
Format: Audio CD
This remaster is appalling. It completely ruins the music by boosting the bass to the point that it overpowers everything else.

Why do modern engineers assume everyone wants to listen exclusively to the bass? The bass is not what someone buys a Sonny Rollins CD for!
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