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Published on January 11th, 2014 | by Sam

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Country Jazz 1 – Sonny Rollins, Way Out West

Sonny Rollins Way Out West Country JazzWhenever I describe the styles of music I’m into I say “a combination of jazz and country” which almost always gets sort of a weird look.  I’ve found though through really diving into these two musics that they are not all THAT far apart.  Exploring country music and repetoire is not new for the jazz community, and country musicians playing jazz is not new for the country community.  This series of monthly entries will look at 12 different Country and Jazz hybrid albums that you should check out before you claim this combination is too weird.

Country Jazz – Sonny Rollins Way Out West

One of the earlies examples in an entire album (there had been numerous songs that combined the styles previously) was Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West released in 1957.  It’s one of Sonny’s trio records with just Ray Brown on bass and Shelly Mann on drums.

This record shows a master improvisor working with some of the themes of country… er the OTHER type of music, western.  Sonny’s instrument choice is a clear depiction of the west – the music seems completely wide open without the use of a chording instrument.

On the opening track, “I’m an Old Cowhand” the band uses a horse hoof pattern to help bring the idea of the west to life.  Sonny though doesn’t make this approach into a mocking or even approximation of the style.  Instead he improvises as earnestly as ever, juxtaposing the great tradition of bebop saxophone playing over the simpler, open space conjured up by the west.

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Check out Wagon Wheels with its easy going swing and a similar horse hoof drum pattern played by Mann.

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A major highlight for me is the final track of the album, the title track “Way Out West.”  This tune has an almost free jazz feel to it. The opening of the tune is laid back and easy going, but he eventually rips into an amazing solo.

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Way Out West is one of the most remarkable albums in the country jazz idiom.  Definitely a must-listen.  

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