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05/20/2003 12:45p ET
Brett Rudolph - Reviewer

Sonny Rollins has been called one of the most influential tenor saxophonists by musicians and critics alike. His early beginnings have been well documented by the series of albums he recorded during the early to mid 1950s. Although one of most stunning and important of these albums is “Rollins Plus 4,” which marked a turning point in Rollins’s career.

For almost a year, before the recording of the album, Sonny Rollins had been doing work as a janitor, examining his life. Although he was still practicing extensively, he had not recorded anything. He had the opportunity to play with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach quartet at the Bee Hive Club in Chicago’s Hyde Park in 1955 and he took it. Following that performance, as luck would have it, he was asked to replace Howard Land the band’s then current tenor saxophonist and he accepted.

Although the details are somewhat sketchy, it wasn’t all that uncommon for a band member to ask his or her band members to record an album with them. So, since Sonny already had a date set to record his next album, he asked the members of the band to play with him, hence the “Plus 4” in the title of the album. His two own compositions, “Valse Hot” and “Pent-Up House” were to become a tribute to the skill he possessed. From the recording of this album forward, both he and the band began to gain praise and status, even more then the band already possessed, which was substantial.

As important as this album was at the time it was recorded until today, it is not surprising that Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (MSFL) chose it to be one of the first they released. Since being “reborn” under new ownership, the record company has been striving to maintain its already impeccable reputation as being one of the leaders in remastering albums to near perfection. Although the album was recorded in 1956, a listener would be hard pressed to ascertain this fact without having fore knowledge of that fact. Those involved did an excellent job of resurrecting the former glory of this older recording as you will note in the review to follow.

The album released by MSFL is contained on a hybrid mono SACD disc. To those unfamiliar with this particular format, it contains not only the standard red-book or CD layer that most people are used to, but also a new, higher resolution layer, the SACD layer. This allows the disc to be played not only on SACD players, but standard CD players as well, giving it the backwards compatibility that many people currently require to enjoy the remastered album.

Beginning with the CD layer, it is easy to hear the improvement that remastering and remixing had on the album. Gone from the album are most of the telltale signs of an older recording, poor sound staging, and severe compression in the bottom and top end. In fact, one would be hard pressed to determine if this was an older recording at all based on the musical quality of the album alone.

Of particular note would be the opening track, “Valse Hot.” All the instruments are extremely vibrant, not overstepping or overshadowing each other, as is common on many older mixes. It is a fairly simple process to determine the exact location of a particular instrument during the studio recording session, something that is a testament to the three dimensionality of this disc. Although there is a bit of compression in the higher reaches of the treble, the recording’s range is easily extended far and beyond that of discs currently available with this material.

Moving from the standard red-book CD layer to the SACD layer is similar to viewing something through a veil of fog and then viewing it once again once the fog has lifted. Though the image is basically the same, but the site itself is has far more presence and life then before, the same holds true with the SACD layer. It is remarkable just how much of a difference it makes on this particular album.

Take for example the opening track, “Valse Hot,” once again. While earlier, there was a certain amount of compression in the upper treble range, it is gone from the recording. In fact, all of the fuzziness which might not even have seemed apparent at the time is gone. You can hear the band as though it was performing directly in front of you. All the time and location information is perfectly preserved and it makes a huge difference in the appreciation of the music itself.

As a whole, this album is a great example of a remastering/remixing effort that was not only done well, but done right. It not only preserves the pristine beauty of the original recording, it breathes new life into it. Even on the CD layer, it is possible to tell just what the band meant by the music and even their moods during the recording of the songs. However, when you listen to the SACD version, you feel as though you are hearing the recording as it was meant to be heard, and experiencing it as though you were hearing it live. The album is easy to recommend to someone looking for a good addition to their collection.

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212 Frech

Sonny Rollins
Plus 4

SACD Quality

Released: January 25, 2003
Origination Year: 1956
RunTime: 32:35
Tracks: 5
Mix Produced by: Van Gelder
Mixed Live to Mono by: Van Gelder
Mastered by: Shawn Britton of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab
Style: Studio
Format: SACD
Enhancement: DSD
Engineered for DSD: Shawn Britton
Label: Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs

Sonny Rollins:

Sonny Rollins:
Tenor Sax

Clifford Brown:

Max Roach:

Richie Powell:

George Morrow:

Track List

  1. Valse Hot
  2. Kisses and Run
  3. Count Your Blessings
  4. I Feel a Song Coming On
  5. Pent-Up House