What's new with Sonny Rollins? Apparently bossa nova. It was certainly the new thing back in '62, and Rollins decided to have a shot at it.
This album is a unique find. Being possibly Sonny Rollins' only bossa nova album in its entirety, here he experiments with new sounds and colors. You can tell when listening that Sonny Rollins does everything except approach the bossa nova style carefully. At times his improvisations become playfully outlandish, especially on tracks like "Jungoso" or "Bluesongo" when the space is very free and open. In other moments, he even disregards the feel and swings his eighth notes.
The album begins with a 12 minute bossa nova jam titled "If Ever I Would Leave You". Establishing a clear bossa nova feel, this track is one of the more "down-to-earth" tracks on this album where Rollins solos with melodic licks and doesn't make sounds as strange as the tracks that follow.
"Jungoso" begins with a percussionist playing on a drum with his hands. Rollins freely and tonally improvises over this, even by putting growl into his sound and bending notes. He continues this when the bass player comes in with a repetitive, modal groove that establishes the background. The effect sounds pretty good, but can be slightly unsettling when he gets a little too carried away with his growl sounds.
The next track, "Bluesongo" is similar to the previous track but has a walking bass line that gives it a touch of blues and swung eighths.
"The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" is similar to the first track of the album, in which the guitar and drum set establish a bossa nova feel and Rollins avoids growling.
The last track, "Brown Skin Gal", actually features a group of people singing the melody. The feel made by the percussion creates more of a calypso or caribbean feel.
In its entirety, this album isn't completely bossa nova, despite what it says on the cover. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th tracks seem to lend themselves slightly more to other South American sub-genres rather than bossa nova. Of the tracks that are bossa nova, Sonny Rollins doesn't have a tone that meshes well with the cool, laid-back feel. Instead, his tone comes across more as fat and aggressive here than is necessary.
Despite this, this album creates a sound of its own that is worth looking into for either Sonny Rollins or latin/bossa nova listeners. For that I give it 7/10.