There wasn’t any question who was the more popular saxophonist at Hollywood Bowl this night. Just look at the billing — Grover WashingtonJr. going on last while Sonny Rollins, probably jazz’s greatest living tenor saxophonist, was squeezed in the middle. Washington was in an unenviable slot, for Rollins flashed enough talent to intimidate anyone.
Wearing dark shades and a loose-fitting turquoise coat and headband, Rollins had mystique to burn. However, he created too much dead time trading fours with his scattershot drummer. After about 10 minutes, though, Rollins snapped into gear, hovering over the band, dominating it, pursuing endless ideas inside and outside the chord changes with that biting tone of his. Not all of his ideas were good ones, yet there were passages of real fire in the ballads and patented calypsos like “Don’t Stop the Carnival.”
As Washington’s latest Columbia CD “All My Tomorrows” proves, he can be a fine ballad player when he turns it on, and guest vocalist Freddy Cole (Nat’s brother) delivered two of the album’s songs with plenty of Nat-isms in his gravelly voice. Other than that, Washington turned in another set of rhythmically bland, polished funk on alto, soprano and tenor saxes, backloaded with a medley of hits near the close.
Cuban expatriate trumpeter Arturo Sandoval’s set was an ear-opener to some surprising facets of his talent. He is an amazingly good pianist, whether delicately musing or romping away, and he can swing mightily on the horn when he holds back on the florid upper-register flights. Among the high points were a Cubop treatment of “Groovin’High” and a closing salsa number of unforced joyousness.