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Sonny Rollins Saxophone Colossus in Pure DSD256

10-14-2022 | By Rushton Paul | Issue 123

Bob Witrak at HDTT has done it again—a superb new release in Pure DSD256. This is the superlative Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus. And it sounds simply amazing, folks. Sonny's saxophone is alive, full of texture, filled with detail. Max Roach is in the room on drums, with outstanding transient attack on stick strikes and shimmering cymbals. Tommy Flanagan keeps everyone together. 

Saxophone Colossus, Sonny Rollins, with Tommy Flanagan, Doug Watkins, Max Roach (Mono). HDTT 1956, 2022 (Pure DSD256) HERE

This is quite possibly the greatest album Sonny Rollins ever recorded. It was taped in a single recording session in the summer of 1956 in Rudy van Gelder's New Jersey recording studio. And, since it's release, it has been the standard by which so many other recordings by other artists have been measured. "St. Thomas" and "Moritat" ("Mack the Knife") are the two best known cuts from this album, but the entire session is simply phenomenal. These performers were at the top of their game and the music is completely alive and dynamic.

Rudy van Gelder captures the sound of the instruments with intimacy, detail and impact. This is particularly true for Sonny's saxophone and Roach's drum set. Hearing his sticks strike the drumheads with such the taut impactful resonance is a lovely sound! Tommy Flanagan's bass is full and well resolved in the mix. Only the sound of Doug Watkin's piano suffers by comparison to the other instruments—a well known challenge for Rudy's recording process and studio at the time (and not a fault of the transfer).

The sound quality of this release is top notch. It doesn't sound like a recording that is nearing 70-years old. It is alive and dynamic as if recorded just yesterday. And, yes, it does sound like it was recorded with tube electronics. Everything has that slightly warm, slightly rounded, sound, with delicate extended top-end, that one only achieves with good tubes in the mix. Bob Witrak's pure DSD transfer retains all of the beauty undiminished. Unlike some other transfers that attempt to brighten and sharpen the sound, this transfer retains the wonders of what is on the the tapes of that era with immense resolution and with retention of all those delicate harmonic overtones that make up the timbre of these acoustic instruments. 

I'm listening once again as I'm writing this and simply marveling at what I'm hearing. 

How does this release compare to other reissues? Top-of-the-pile, my friends. This DSD256 transfer is more transparent and resolving, with a more natural acoustic instrumental sound, than any of the other digital releases in my music library. The instruments have dimensionality (even in mono) that the others lack. The capture of the harmonic overtones is simply greater, creating a much more realistic aural image of each instrument. The micro-dynamic contrasts are more resolved, giving everything just a greater similitude of real instruments playing in a real acoustic space. How does it compare to vinyl? Sorry, I can't help you there except to say I am losing no sleep on this point given what I am hearing in this DSD256 release.

This new release is certainly my new standard for listening to this album. It grants full justice to the excellence of Rudy's recording and the performances by these great musicians.