Sonny Rollins “The Freedom Suite”

I transcribed this in a weekend earlier this year as a favor to a friend for a performance. Honestly, I was very unfamiliar with it prior to his approaching me for the transcription job.

One thing that struck me was how conventional it sounds for 1958. Between Sonny, Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach, they play it all pretty straight. It’s a melodic series of improvisations and Pettiford’s presence (I feel) helps to keep it tightly confined and on track. There’s very little stretching out, harmonically speaking, on this chord-less trio date which may strike many listeners by surprise, as it did me. This is what a lifetime of studying John Coltrane will do to your perspective if you aren’t careful. We are chronologically removed from the outgrowth of Coltrane’s massive harmonic risks so that something like “Freedom Suite” sounds tame by comparison. It’s impossible to compare Coltrane’s 1960s works (which often featured piano-less trio) to this.

I was refreshed to find a great recording full of the many melodic links and themes that Rollins so well-known for, so I highly recommend it. Throughout the entire 19-minute suite, however, I find myself listening to the drums more closely each time. Roach’s melodic playing make this recording special with his weaving of time and interesting rhythms guided by a concentration on the melody above all. I’ve put my transcription here for all to enjoy, study and (hopefully) perform in the interest of keeping these experiments alive and well.

Freedom Suite – Score
Freedom Suite – Tenor Sax
Freedom Suite – Bass
Freedom Suite – Drums

I did enjoy a (very slight) hint of the famous “Giant Steps” chord progression in the opening improvisation section. While this pre-dates Coltrane’s eponymous album by a year, it’s interesting to hear the device as a neat little bebop trick before Coltrane expanded it so dramatically.