From the beginning, multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers’ trios of the 1970s featured bassists and percussionists of exceptional quality. On his freely improvised excursions of the time, Rivers was joined by musicians like Richard Davis, Cecil McBee, Arvil Anderson, Norman Connors, and Warren Smith. But it was Rivers’ double bassist and percussionist of the mid-to-late 1970s trios that many consider to make up the classic free trio rhythm section: Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. On Ricochet, the third entry in No Business Records’ superb Sam Rivers Archive Project, they are featured on a performance recorded at San Francisco’s legendary Keystone Korner on 12 January 1978.
Ricochet’s single track captures the seamless flow of the group’s nearly hour-long, continuous performance. The piece is structured as a typical Sam Rivers Trio set, with Rivers moving from one instrument to the next while maintaining a running dialogue with bass and drums. In addition, both Holland and Altschul get ample solo space of their own. The performance launches with Rivers’ acerbically bright soprano saxophone, followed by an interlude for solo bass, a piano section, a cello interlude, a tenor saxophone section, a percussion solo, and finally a section for flute. The energy level is especially high, as is brought out in the recording’s mix which puts Rivers and Holland both to the front. Holland in particular is shown to be a motive force in structuring the flow of the music as he centers Rivers’ solos with rapid walking lines and rhythmically dense repeated figures. The Keystone set was done at a time when he was playing cello; his long cello solo between the piano and tenor saxophone sections is exciting for its forward motion and for its introduction of a new voice into the set. The subsequent extended interplay between the cello and Rivers’ kinetic tenor lines is intriguing for the way the two instruments converge in range and diverge in timbre. As is typical of his work with the Rivers trios, Altschul brings a restless, abstract swing to the table; his playing is volcanic throughout.
That January night at the Keystone the Sam Rivers Trio played cathartic music of an especially high order; surely this has to be among the Rivers-Holland-Altschul trios best performances.