Sam RIVERS – The Complete Blue Note Sam Rivers Sessions (Vol. I,II,II) 1996

Sam RIVERS – The Complete Blue Note Sam Rivers Sessions (Vol. I,II,II) 1996
Mosaic Records MD3-167


Although he’s been a victim of those stylistic ins and outs since he first hit the national scene as a member of the Miles Davis quintet in the mid-’60s, multi- instrumentalist Sam Rivers seems to be enjoying a renewed popularity thanks in part to his 1999 Grammy-nominated RCA release Inspiration. His first recording for a major label in some time, it will be followed-up by a second collection of his works, Culmination, due sometime in May. Residing now in Florida, Rivers still remains the visionary eccentric whose 50-plus-year career contains many wonderful artifacts, not the least of which being his classic Blue Note sides. Reissued by Mosaic Records in 1996, each album is a perfect package boasting many surprises. Keeping in mind the Rivers revival, it seems like an apropos moment to look back at these early career highlights which are still available through Mosaic.
This reviewer’s first exposure to Sam Rivers’ iconoclastic style came many years ago through listening to Tony Williams’ Spring album and Miles Davis’ Live in Tokyo. On the basis of these recordings alone, a search ensued for more vinyl, only to be halted by the glaring unavailability of his highly recommended Blue Notes, which were at the time long out-of-print and almost impossible to find in the used bins. It is with much satisfaction then that Mosaic’s treatment of this material on a three-disc boxed set rectifies what was a dismal situation.

Laying the goods out on the table at the start, this set contains the original albums Fuschia Swing Song, Contours, A New Conception, and Dimensions & Extensions. For sheer titillation, nothing quite packs the punch of Fuschia Swing Song which features a stellar quartet with the likes of Jaki Byard (a Boston resident at the time, like Rivers), Ron Carter, and Tony Williams (who had worked with Rivers in Boston while still in his early teens). The three alternates of “Downstairs Blues Upstairs” give a good idea of how creative this group was, each take unique and substantial in itself. A marvel at straddling that thin line between the mainstream and avant-garde camps, Rivers’ debut is as strong a maiden voyage as anything else in the jazz cannon of the ’50s and ’60s.

Contours also has a lot to recommend it, with Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Carter, and Joe Chambers making up an all-star cast. Each piece tells a story (check out the titles too, such as “Point of Many Returns” and “Mellifluous Cacophony’) with an unfolding logic that gives all the soloists a chance to shine, yet without degenerating into the chaos often associated with the “free music” of the period.

That ability to stay artistic and still communicate with the audience is what makes A New Conception such a pithy example of what Rivers is all about. With tenor, soprano sax, and flute in hand, he performs a resourceful set of standards and leaves a new stamp on them without altering their original intent dramatically. Pianist Hal Galper makes a strong showing here, as does drummer Steve Ellington, who would later go on to play a role in Dave Holland’s ’80s quintet.

The final set of the package, Dimensions and Extensions, was never issued following completion, only coming out some ten years later. This 1967 date drops the piano for the first time in favor of an expanded front line, featuring trumpeter Donald Byrd, James Spaulding on alto and flute, and Julian Priester on trombone. The original compositions are dense and knotty, full of the kind of complex interaction that would later see fruition in Rivers’ work for Impulse. Some may find this session the least accessible of the three, yet repeated exposure holds its own rewards.
By C. Andrew Hovan.
From the time of his first Blue Note recording in 1964 to his final session for the label in 1967, Sam Rivers made stunning progress as an avant-garde innovator. Starting with an inside/outside hard bop foundation, Rivers quickly took his music as far out as he could while maintaining a recognizable structure; his work fearlessly explored wildly dissonant harmonies and atonality, dense group interaction, cerebral rumination, and passionately intense, free-leaning solos. The Complete Blue Note Sam Rivers Sessions traces that development chronologically (and flawlessly) over the course of three discs, including the entirety of his four albums as a leader: the relatively straightforward Fuschia Swing Song [sic], the avant-bop masterpiece Contours, the radical standards album A New Conception, and the galvanizing, brilliant avant-garde classic Dimensions and Extensions (which also comprised Rivers’ half of the split double-LP Involution with Andrew Hill). Five alternate takes are also added to the program, including three of “Downstairs Blues Upstairs.” What amazes just as much as Rivers’ imaginative originality is how consistently rewarding all three discs are. Rivers may not be quite as much a household name as some of his equally forward-thinking peers, but any jazz fan remotely interested in the avant-garde should know that this set constitutes some of the finest avant-garde jazz Blue Note ever released — the music here should be considered a cornerstone of any self-respecting avant-garde collection. [As of early 2002, the set was very close to going out of print, a real shame since at the time it was the only form in which any of Rivers’ Blue Note recordings were available.]
By Steve Huey, All Music Guide.
Donald Byrd- (Trumpet)
Freddie Hubbard- (Trumpet)
Hal Galper- (Piano)
Herbie Hancock- (Piano)
Jaki Byard- (Piano)
Julian Priester- (Trombone, Tuba),
Sam Rivers- (Flute, Soprano and Tenor Sax)
James Spaulding- (Flute, Alto Sax)
Herbie Lewis- (Bass)
Cecil McBee- (Bass)
Ron Carter- (Bass)
Tony Williams- (Drums)
Steve Ellington- (Drums)
Joe Chambers- (Drums)
01. Fuschia Swing Song (Rivers) 6:00
02. Cyclic Episode (Rivers) 6:55
03. Luminous Monolith (Rivers) 6:28
04. Luminous Monolith [alternate take/#] (Rivers) 6:36
05. Ellipsis (Rivers) 7:39
06. Downstairs Blues Upstairs [#] (Rivers) 8:06
07. Downstairs Blues Upstairs [Alternate Take 2] (Rivers) 7:44
08. Downstairs Blues Upstairs [Alternate Take 3] (Rivers) 7:46
09. Downstairs Blues Upstairs (Rivers) 5:31
10. Beatrice (Rivers) 6:10

01. Point of Many Returns (Rivers) 9:18
02. Dance of the Tripedal (Rivers) 10:06
03. Mellifluous Cacophony (Rivers) 8:57
04. Euterpe (Rivers) 11:42
05. Mellifluous Cacophony [alternate take/#] (Rivers) 9:00
06. I’ll Never Smile Again (Lowe) 5:55
07. That’s All (Brandt, Haymes) 5:37
08. When I Fall in Love (Heyman, Young) 5:48

01. What a Difference a Day Makes (Adams, Grever) 6:17
02. Detour Ahead (Carter, Ellis, Freigo) 5:08
03. Temptation (Brown, Freed) 7:36
04. Secret Love (Fain, Webster) 7:31
05. Paean (Rivers) 5:21
06. Precis (Rivers) 5:18
07. Helix (Rivers) 5:29
08. Effusive Melange (Rivers) 5:47
09. Involution (Rivers) 7:10
10. Afflatus (Rivers) 6:25

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