Though he tended to coast through the middle of his performance, Sonny Rollins closed his mostly mainstream first set at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Tuesday in a way that made up for anything that had been lacking.
Working out on a well-worn blues, "Tenor Madness," the saxophonist traded what seemed like a hundred four-bar exchanges with drummer Al Foster, the perfect rhythmic foil for the very rhythm-oriented Rollins.
These passages--ranging from quicksilver flurries to single notes repeatedly tagged, as if Rollins were a drummer--were of high invention, often quite complex yet executed deftly, and they swung like mad. Incredibly, Rollins rarely, if ever, played the same thing twice. It was one of those extraordinary moments of music-making for which the saxophonist is renowned and one that provided a deep satisfaction for the listener.
Rollins opened the show on a similar level, knocking out a delightful version of the pop standard "Dancing in the Dark," playing choruses that mixed the melody line with ear-catching ideas. As he worked, he moved, leaning forward and back, striding about the stage, holding his horn at his side and then aloft, as if toward the heavens.