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Sam RIVERS – Crystals 1974

Posted in JAZZ, Sam RIVERS on December 26, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Sam RIVERS – Crystals 1974


The composer and saxophonist Sam Rivers leads a cast of like-minded souls in a set of energetically dissonant jazz that frequently takes off in avant-garde directions, yet remains consistently involving. Pieces like the breakneck “Exultation,” with its massed soloing led by Rivers’ Pied Piper soprano, contrast with the funky street-beat of “Tranquility,” and Rivers uses the tonal colors of his band like a Jackson Pollock painting, threaded through with his nimble solos.
When Sam Rivers’ Crystals was released in 1974, it had been over a decade since Ornette had worked with his Free Jazz Double Quartet, nine years since Coltrane assembled his Ascension band, and six since the first Jazz Composers’ Orchestra Association was formed and whose first records were issued (a couple of members of that band also perform with Rivers here). It’s difficult to note in the 21st century just how forward-thinking this avant-garde big band was, and how completely innovative Rivers’ compositions are. The number of musicians on this session is staggering: With Rivers, it numbers 64 pieces! A few of the names appearing here are Hamiet Bluiett, Richard Davis, Bob Stewart, John Stubblefield, Bill Barron, Robin Kenyatta, Julius Watkins, Norman Connors, Andrew Cyrille, Billy Hart, Ahmed Abdullah, Charles Sullivan, Clifford Thornton, Grachan Moncur, Ronnie Boykins, and Reggie Workman — and no pianist. Musically, this is the mature Sam Rivers speaking from the wide base of his knowledge as a composer, improviser, and conceptualist. These compositions were written between 1959 and 1972, and were finished as new elements came to him to fit them together conceptually. The fact that all six of them are so gorgeously juxtaposed is a testament to his discipline and his vision. From the beginning of “Exultation,” the horns storm out of the gate, saxophones up front in what appears to be full free jazz freakout. Trumpets and trombones bleat behind, and the bass violins bow in unison on a modal opening. Within minutes, however, the rhythm section kicks in, and a full-on swinging soprano solo accompanied by the stomping bass of Workman fills the center for about 40 bars until the entire band comes back for a restated them that is knotty yet swinging. A number of instruments then jump through the center of the piece, creating an intervallic dialogue that prompts the soloists to come back in and take it. The intervals and contrapuntal structures are subtle enough to avoid seams — though the jagged edges in the solos provide dense and beautiful textures — and when the whole band comes back in, one doesn’t notice that they are all grooving in a whole new rhythmic situation that is full of stops, starts, and sideways maneuvers. On “Tranquility,” the bassist lays down a syncopated funk groove and long, drifting melodic lines that are written out comes flowing in between the bass and Stewart’s tuba. They shimmer around each other in harmonic dissonance, though with the dynamics controlled, the edges are rounded. Rivers has written some of the most complex music of his life here, allowing for short, poignant, and often strictly composed solos to complement the linear, contrapuntal structures that these towering compositions are. As soloists do give way to one another, it is remarkable that the sheer density of hard swing provides the center of the maelstrom with such a wide emotional and chromatic palette. This is spiritual music in the most profound sense in that it attempts to breach the gyre between what has previously been said — by Ellington, most notably — what can be said, and the musically unspeakable. There is a massive centrifugal force at work in Rivers compositions here; and it pulls everything in, each dynamic stutter, legato phrase, ostinato whisper, and alteration in pitch in favor of what comes next. The swinging nature of these tunes refutes once and for all whether or not avant-garde music can be accessible — -though it’s true Sun Ra had already done that, but never to this extent. In sum, there are harsh moments here to be sure, but they are part of a greater and far more diverse musical universe, they are shards in the prism of the deep and burning soul that these six compositions offer so freely. Of the many recordings Rivers has done, this was the very first to showcase the full range of his many gifts. It is an underrated masterpiece and among the most rewarding and adventurous listening experiences in the history of jazz. Now that it is available on CD with pristine sound, you have no excuse.
By Thom Jurek, All Music Guide.
Taking the concept of John Coltrane’s Ascension (9 years gap) to a new height.Truely a hidden gem of the entire free jazz organization.
Sam Rivers masterfully constructed compositions standsout alone,and making this a very different style of album to Coltrane’s Ascension.
Tranquility started out with a very groovy and 70sque basslines,slowly it got overlaps and ascends into a full blown free jazz big band,one of the highlights of Rivers’s sense of composing.
Another favourite of mine is Bursts,an aggressive track,bop style grooves,gradually Rivers use it as a foundation to went free form,and it works powerfully and a pinnacle moment on Crystals.
Every tracks here were carefully crafted,arranged,sequenced, an intentional attempt on creating a jazz masterpiece,and it works by not forgetting the past and modernizing it at the same time.
Long before Sam Rivers’ late 1990s big band albums, Inspiration and Culmination were nominated for Grammys, there was Crystals, from 1974. Although Crystals is Rivers’ earliest foray into large-scale ensemble writing, it is by no means an embryonic effort.
Recorded in the halcyon days of the loft-jazz scene, Crystals is a somewhat more accessible affair than one would expect. In the experimental big band tradition of Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton and Sun Ra, Sam Rivers’ first big band album makes a fine contribution to this often under-sung genre.
The opening cut, Exultation lives up to its title. Horn lines weave around each other as River’s soprano snakes through them, never flagging in intensity. Tranquility follows, with a funky acoustic bass and tuba ostinato leading the ensemble into a mid-tempo groove. Postlude is a short interlude that leads into the albums second side, starting with Bursts, a scorching free-bop feature for River’s furious tenor. The march-like collective improvisation Orb takes the energy level down just a notch to prepare for the climactic closer, Earth Song.
Embracing the discordant linear quality of Muhal Abrams writing, albeit less rigid, more swinging and occasionally even funky, Rivers big band compositions are more accessible than Braxton’s but further out than anything Mingus had attempted at the time. While Crystals may be the blueprint for his more recent big band albums, it is more than just a historical curiosity. Not for the faint of heart, Crystals is creative orchestral music at it’s most challenging and rewarding.
Sam Rivers- Soprano & tTenor Saxs.
Fred Kelly- Soprano, Alto & Baritone Saxs, Flute, Piccolo
Joe Ferguson- Soprano & Alto Saxs, Flute
Roland Alexander- Soprano & Tenor Saxs, Flute, African Flute
Paul Jeffrey- Tenor sax, Flute, Bassett Horn
Sinclair Acey, Ted Daniel, Richard Williams- Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Charles Majeed Greenlee, Charles Stephens- Trombone
Joe Daley- Euphonium, Tuba
Gregory Maker- Bass
Warren Smith- Drums
Harold Smith- Percussion
A1. Exultation  8:25
A2. Tranquility  8:58
A3. Postlude  2:31
B1. Bursts  6:51
B2. Orb  9:36
B3. Earth Song  4:09
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Sam RIVERS – Contours 1965

Posted in JAZZ, Sam RIVERS on December 2, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Sam RIVERS – Contours 1965
2004 Issue.


On Contours, his second Blue Note album, tenor saxophonist Sam Rivers fully embraced the avant-garde, but presented his music in a way that wouldn’t be upsetting or confusing to hard bop loyalists. Rivers leads a quintet featuring trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Joe Chambers through a set of originals that walk a fine line between probing, contemplative post-bop and densely dissonant avant-jazz. Each musician is able to play the extremes equally well while remaining sensitive to the compositional subtleties. Rarely is Contours anything less than enthralling, and it remains one of the high watermarks of the mid-’60s avant-garde movement.
By Stephen Thomas Erlewine. AMG.
Ron Carter- Bass
Joe Chambers- Drums
Herbie Hancock- Piano
Freddie Hubbard- Trumpet
Sam Rivers- Flute, Sax (Soprano), Sax (Tenor)
01. Point of Many Returns 9:23
02. Dance of the Tripedal 10:10
03. Euterpe 11:46
04. Mellifluous Cacophony 8:58
05. Mellifluous Cacophony (Alternate Take) 9:04
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Sam RIVERS – The Complete Blue Note Sam Rivers Sessions (Vol. I,II,II) 1996

Posted in JAZZ, Sam RIVERS with tags on November 15, 2010 by whoisthemonk

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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