Freedom Suite

A masterpiece that provokes as many questions as it does musical satisfactions, Sonny Rollins?s Freedom Suite has lost none of its power or provo-
cative nature in the half century since it was released. Now reissued with the addition of three bonus tracks, Freedom Suite captures the venerated tenor saxophonist at an early peak of his extra-
ordinary powers, his unfet-
tered improvisational flights bolstered by the highly inter-
active team of drummer Max Roach and bassist Oscar Pettiford. Operating without the harmonic guide of either piano or guitar — an unusual context for the period — the trio tackles the ambitious 19-minute title composition, and a handful of standards. The immense confidence radiated by each player elevated the disc to instant classic status: the soaring force of Rollins?s muscular horn, Roach?s melodic drumming, and Pettiford?s sumptuous harmonic support remain inspirational today — just ask any contemporary jazz musician worth his salt. Yet, amid all this brilliance, open-ended questions continue to confound. The original album came with a (now reprinted) statement from Rollins, baldly lamenting the racial divide then plaguing the nation. Does this social message find voice in the titular suite, which, for all its strength, doesn?t consciously evoke anger or conflict in its musical expression? And what do the presence of songs composed by such status-quo figures as Harry Warren, Meredith Wilson (of Music Man fame), and Noël Coward indicate? Is the ultimate musical “freedom” Rollins?s willingness and ability to play whatever he wants, however he wishes? Fifty years later, one can still ponder. And still revel in glorious jazz making.