AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Sam Rivers Quartet – Braids [No Business Records NBCD 138]

It was April, 1979, in the tiny room upstairs at dc space, the long-gone—it’s now a Starbucks, of all things—venue for adventurous groups like the Sam Rivers Quartet, which was playing that night. It was an incandescent performance consisting of one long, intensely-played set. I was there, and still remember it vividly more than forty years later. A month after they played dc space the quartet was in Europe; their concert in Hamburg, Germany from 15 May is documented on Braids, the fourth installment in No Business Records’ extraordinary Sam Rivers Archive Project.

By 1979, Rivers had expanded the trio format he used in the mid-1970s to a quartet; bassist Dave Holland, doubling on cello, was still with him, but Thurman Barker had replaced Barry Altschul on drums, and Joe Daley, playing tuba and euphonium, was added as the fourth member. The double bass-tuba pairing was an unusual one, but even with its bias toward the lower end of the sound spectrum, the group could move nimbly and with a clarity of line, as the Hamburg recording shows.

The album consists of two tracks, the first of which ends in a fade; presumably, both are from the same set, part of which is missing. The music opens with Rivers on tenor in the midst of a collective polyphony that gradually settles into a relaxed groove led by Holland, and culminates in an intense, very fast swing. If the first track deals in high-energy playing, the second, longer track shows the group’s mastery of nuanced textural playing. Barker opens it with a drum solo, which segues into Rivers on solo piano. Over the course of the thirty-plus minutes, the texture undergoes constant changes, with voices being added and subtracted in various combinations and all four players leaving ample space for each other. Particularly arresting are duets for Rivers’ flute, first with Holland on bowed bass and then with Daley on tuba. This clearly was a group that could make the unlikeliest-seeming instrumental combinations work beautifully and naturally.
Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: The Sam Rivers Trio – Ricochet [No Business Records NBCD 128]

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.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Recent Releases from NoBusiness Records

NoBusiness Records, the Lithuanian label that specializes in reissues of adventurous jazz from the generation of the 1960s and 1970s as well as new improvised music in the jazz tradition, approaches the year’s end with a clutch of releases highlighting unusual instrumental ensembles.

First is Zenith, the second installment in the label’s essential Sam Rivers archival release series. Zenith is a live recording made at the Jazztage Berliner 1977 with an unconventional quintet of Rivers on tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and piano; Dave Holland on double bass and cello; Joe Daley on tuba and euphonium; and both Barry Altschul and Charlie Persip on drums. The quintet was a subset of the larger orchestra Rivers brought to Europe; this may have been their only performance together as a quintet. And an intense performance it is: a single, 53-minute improvisation that establishes and maintains a high energy level throughout. The two drummers mesh well and don’t overwhelm the rest of the group; Holland and Daley, who developed a finely-tuned working relationship in the Rivers quartet during this period, complement each other well and avoid any redundancy of line or color in the lower registers. Rivers’ playing is explosive and inspired, which is no surprise in light of the rich textures his bandmates weave.

Reptiles is a recording of the Israeli trio Bones, comprising bass clarinet (Ziv Taubenfeld), double bass (Shay Hazan), and drums (Nir Sabag). While the pianoless saxophone trio is a well-established configuration within jazz, the pianoless bass clarinet trio is less so. Bass clarinet and double bass are known for being among the quieter instruments in any ensemble but on this raw, forceful recording they show a more aggressive side. Taubenfeld’s sound tends toward the acerbic while Hazan favors a blunt-edged pizzicato on most of the tracks; Sabag’s free polyrhythms provide the trio with a propulsive push. Odd-numbered tracks are collective pieces, while the even-numbered tracks are solo performances for double bass, bass clarinet, and drums, respectively.

Recorded in an intimate live setting in Yamaguchi, Japan in 1997, The Aiki represents a rare meeting of pianist Masahiko Satoh and drummer Sabu Toyozumi. The two long duets that make up the release are the product of a chemistry that is as deep as it is rarely given occasion to combust, as Satoh’s tightly coiled, knotty lines find a fine foil in Toyozumi’s muscular excursions ranging over the entire drum kit. If the pairing of piano and trap drums implies a relatively restricted palette of timbres, Satoh and Toyozumi compensate by building their improvisations through a sophisticated use of space and dynamics.

Another recording from the 1990s, Blue Cat is a 1991 session for the quartet of cornetist Bobby Bradford, alto saxophonist Frode Gjerstad, double bassist Kent Carter, and drummer John Stevens. The four play a finely crafted free swing especially notable for the mutually supportive, motivic interplay of the two horns and solid playing from the rhythm section.

Finally, Brain in a Dish from the trio of Steve Swell on trombone, Robert Boston on piano and organ and drummer Michael Vatcher is a freely improvised collection of eleven pieces that takes Swell’s extended vocabulary of growls, squeals, air notes and buzzes and situates them within a sympathetic and stimulating setting. Particularly intriguing are the pieces for the timbrally distinctive combination of trombone and organ.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Bob Gluck – The Miles Davis Lost Quintet & Other Revolutionary Ensembles (U of Chicago Press: 2016)

9780226180762Until the recent opening of the archives and subsequent series of releases, the 1969 Miles Davis Quintet—the so-called Lost Quintet—was something of a legend, much talked about but rarely heard by itself except on a few hard to get bootlegs: The music world’s equivalent of apocryphal texts concealed in jars in the desert. This quintet–which in addition to Davis included Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette–is now the focal point of Bob Gluck’s engaging narrative history of some of the most innovative American music of the late 1960s-early 1970s.


The Lost Quintet proper only lasted for a single year, from March 1969-March 1970. The group never made a studio recording by itself, although as early as 1968 its members recorded studio material with Davis as elements within larger ensembles—the best known of these probably being the expanded group that recorded Bitches Brew in August 1969, just after the quintet had come off of a European tour. The group was active at a time when Davis famously—or infamously, for some contemporaries—was turning his attention to funk, rock, and the integration of electronic instruments into the basic acoustic jazz ensemble. This turn signaled a significant change in the sound of his music, for while his mid-1960s working quintet of Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams had undoubtedly pushed against the boundaries of jazz conventions, the new group, in both its core and expanded versions, would push further still.

The mid-1960s quintet opened up time, using it as an elastic structural element that allowed rhythmic cycles to expand and contract as if they were following the variable measure of the breath, all while maintaining continuity through a steady, underlying pulse and a basic preservation of song forms. By contrast the Lost Quintet brought timbre—at the local level—and texture—at the global level—to the forefront in order to shape performances and to structure improvisations. Consequently, their sound was deeply rooted in a plasticity emerging from the dynamic interaction of timbral forms. The Lost Quintet was able to open up timbre in this way in significant part because of Corea’s innovative use of the electric piano in a predominantly acoustic setting. Through his use of tone clusters, open space, percussive attacks and liberal application of ring modulation, Corea took the instrument and converted it from a conventionally harmonic role to one of providing intermittent blocks and slabs of sound verging on pure, pitchless timbre. Holland similarly explored an expanded role for the double bass, drawing on extended arco techniques as well as a rapid, flamenco-like pizzicato that blended individual notes into abstract, mobile masses.

Whereas the mid-1960s quintet hinted at a dissolution of tonality, the Lost Quintet took the hint and dismantled it, getting as close to free jazz as a Miles Davis quintet would. As Gluck shows, Davis had been paying attention to developments on the frontiers of jazz, particularly those of his former sideman John Coltrane but also those of Ornette Coleman, with whom Davis had a complex, often uneasy relationship marked by a sometimes sublimated, sometimes overt competition for leadership of the new music. Gluck shows that Coleman’s use of collective improvisation was a source of inspiration to Davis, and played a role in the Lost Quintet’s move into open forms. With Coleman’s example before them, the group opened up a creative field that Holland and Corea were subsequently to explore further on their own.


By the second half of 1970, Davis was beginning to move toward music centered on firm rhythms and foundational ostinati. After playing the Isle of Wight Festival with him in August, Corea and Holland left Davis to continue pursuing open form music. Earlier in the year they had gotten involved with the Chelsea loft scene—a mix of free jazz sounds and countercultural ambience centered around saxophonist Dave Liebman and others. There they met and formed a trio with drummer Barry Altschul, with whom they recorded the classic The Song of Singing that April. At the Village Vanguard the following month, Anthony Braxton sat in with the trio, and the quartet Circle was born.

Braxton, originally from Chicago’s South Side, had recently spent time in Europe with fellow members of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians such as Steve McCall, Leroy Jenkins, Leo Smith and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. While overseas he encountered and played with, among others, the avant garde group Musica Elettronica Viva and forged a long-running musical relationship with experimentalist Richard Teitelbaum. Braxton, whose influences included Cage, Stockhausen and Schoenberg as well as Coltrane and Coleman, would bring into Circle a characteristic blend of adventurous improvisation phrased in the angular language of advanced Western art music.

In tandem with Braxton and Altschul, Corea and Holland took the timbral experiments they had been conducting with Davis and pushed them further, albeit now in an acoustic context. In addition to Braxton’s vast collection of reeds of all ranges, the group drew on the disparate sounds of double bass, cello, acoustic guitar, piano played inside the case, chimes and various other tuned and untuned percussion. Combined with its generally open-textured approach, Circle’s instrumental color and chromatic vocabulary gave it the sound of a new music chamber ensemble improvising collectively—although in concert the quartet might also play the standards Nefertiti or There Is No Greater Love.

Circle dissolved after only a year or so, and the 1970s found its four members taking different directions. Corea went on to play more accessible music, eventually forming the successful electric fusion band Return to Forever. Holland and Altschul played for a while in a trio with Braxton and later became the rhythm section for that epitome of stream-of-consciousness collective improvisation, the mid-1970s Sam Rivers Trio. And Braxton focused on developing his own unique system of combining composition with improvisation.


The third group Gluck considers is the Revolutionary Ensemble. This trio of Leroy Jenkins, Jerome Cooper and Sirone (Norris Jones) was—for the 1970s—highly unorthodox in its makeup, its main instrumentation consisting as it did of violin, percussion and double bass. Like Circle, the Revolutionary Ensemble was formed in New York in 1970. Jenkins and Cooper were back from Europe; Sirone had come from Atlanta. The Ensemble made an early connection to Ornette Coleman, holding initial rehearsals in his studio as well as in the studio of visual artist Fred Brown. Here was another parallel to Circle, which had also gotten its start in a loft milieu. Unlike Circle, though, the Revolutionary Ensemble would for the most part remain in the world of lofts and alternative performance spaces like Joe Papp’s Annex and the Mercer Arts Center, the usual commercial jazz venues being largely closed to them. Despite the lack of a professional organization to promote them, though, the Ensemble was active in the New York area, playing on radio programs, giving concerts and even playing a Sunday afternoon date at the Village Vanguard. They also released five recordings between 1972 and 1977, albeit mostly on small labels.

The group’s style of improvisation, which Gluck describes as the “parallel play” of three musicians playing as individuals, was as unorthodox as its instrumentation and marked one of the outer boundaries of open-form playing.  Early releases and recordings of live performances show the group building improvisations from fully independent lines that exploit the pungent, microtonal possibilities inherent in having two unfretted string instruments playing simultaneously. But the Ensemble could also employ walking bass lines and song forms structured by opening melodies played by both violin and double bass in parallel motion.

Of the three groups Gluck focuses on, the Revolutionary Ensemble was the least integrated into the network of relationships making up the economy of jazz at the time. And yet ironically, it was the longest-lived, lasting from 1970-1977 and then reuniting in the early 2000s. During its initial lifetime, the group showed that performers could get their music out through an alternative infrastructure of noncommercial venues and what we now would call DIY spaces. In this respect, it may have had the most lasting relevance for today’s experimental musicians.


Before now, the stories of the Lost Quintet, Circle and the Revolutionary Ensemble could be pieced together from scattered and sometimes fugitive sources. Gluck’s book is valuable not only for narrating the collective history of a not-well-enough-known moment in exploratory music, but for describing three different ways of settling the field opened up by 1960s experiments in formal organization and instrumentation. Gluck’s analyses of the differences among the three groups, and of the underlying similarities that nevertheless made them commensurate, are astute and make accessible a music that can place great demands on the listener. The inclusion of a detailed timeline and thorough discography helps to situate these three groups precisely within a time that, in retrospect, was uniquely fecund.

Daniel Barbiero

Performances Reviews

Dave Holland Leads With Collectivist Spirit


There are few musicians in jazz with a more untroubled sense of leadership than the bassist Dave Holland. Since the first recordings made under his name, in the early 1970s, Mr. Holland has expressed his point of view with gracious clarity, drawing out the best from his partners while keeping a firm hand on the tiller. But he’s after a greater spirit of collectivism with the Overtone Quartet, which made its first public appearance at the Blue Note on Tuesday night before a handful of tour dates this fall.

The group, with the saxophonist Chris Potter, the pianist Jason Moran and the drummer Eric Harland — musicians born in the 1970s — shares most of its DNA with the Monterey Quartet, which was convened in 2007 for that year’s Monterey Jazz Festival. (A sharp live album was released a couple of weeks ago on the festival’s label, licensed to Concord.) The crucial difference is in the piano chair: the Monterey Quartet featured Gonzalo Rubalcaba, a player of drier touch and steelier temperament than Mr. Moran.

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Firehouse 12 To Present The Jimmy Greene Quartet March 27th

From Improvised Communications:

On Friday, March 27th, New Haven’s Firehouse 12 will present a two-set performance by saxophonist and Hartford native Jimmy Greene’s five year-old working quartet. The group, featuring pianist Xavier Davis (Regina Carter, Stefon Harris, Freddie Hubbard), bassist Reuben Rogers (Charles Lloyd, Joshua Redman, Dianne Reeves) and drummer Eric Harland (Taylor Eigsti, Dave Holland, Kurt Rosenwinkel) will be on tour celebrating Greene’s forthcoming April release, Mission Statement (RazDaz Recordz/Sunnyside)

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Jazz Listings From The New York Times

American Jazz musician and composer Mat Maneri.
Image via Wikipedia

From the Times:

GERALD CLEAVER (Tuesday) Dealing less in rhythm than in pulse, Mr. Cleaver’s drumming perfectly suits the fluid requirements of jazz’s post-everything avant-garde. He leads two strong bands here, beginning (at 8 p.m.) with Violet Hour, which features a front line of the trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and the saxophonists J. D. Allen and Andrew Bishop. The second group (at 10) is Uncle June, his more free-form-leaning outfit with the violist Mat Maneri, the saxophonist Tony Malaby and others. At the Stone, Avenue C and Second Street, East Village,; cover, $10 per set. (Chinen)

SYLVIE COURVOISIER TRIO (Sunday) The pianist Sylvie Courvoisier typically pursues a shimmering kind of tonal friction, and in this trio she has the right partners for it: John Hebert, a sensitive bassist, and Gerald Cleaver, a supple drummer. At 8 p.m., the Stone, Avenue C and Second Street, East Village,; cover, $10. (Chinen)

? BILL FRISELL, RON CARTER, PAUL MOTIAN (Tuesday through Thursday) A few years ago this all-star triumvirate released an album on Nonesuch that felt tantalizingly unfinished. Now Mr. Frisell (on guitar), Mr. Carter (on bass) and Mr. Motian (on drums) regroup for a weeklong engagement, taking long strides across a terrain that encompasses both spooky originals and heartland standards. (Through Jan. 11.) At 8 and 10:30 p.m., Blue Note, 131 West Third Street, West Village, (212) 475-8592,; cover, $35 at tables, $20 at the bar, with a $5 minimum. (Chinen)

? DAVE HOLLAND OCTET (Wednesday and Thursday) On “Pass It On” (Emarcy), his crisply energetic recent album, the bassist Dave Holland unveils a batch of compositions for a high-polish sextet. Here he expands to eight pieces but calls on some of the same musicians, employing the same stout resourcefulness as an arranger and composer. (Through Jan. 11.) At 8:30 and 11 p.m., Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, Clinton, (212) 581-3080,; cover, $40 and $30, with a $10 minimum.

? NICOLE MITCHELL’S SONIC PROJECTIONS (Friday and Saturday) More than a serious and soulful flutist, Nicole Mitchell, from Chicago, organizes her music with a high degree of conceptual savvy. Here she introduces two editions of a project called Sonic Projections. The first, on Friday, includes the tenor saxophonist David Boykin, the pianist Vijay Iyer and the drummer Chad Taylor; the second, on Saturday, features the guitarist Mary Halvorson in place of Mr. Iyer. Friday at 10 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., the Stone, Avenue C and Second Street, East Village,; cover, $10. (Chinen)

? MARIO PAVONE (Friday and Wednesday) Mr. Pavone is a bassist and composer with a strong affinity for post-bop experimentation, and in his own music he often maps out a layered topography. On Friday he revisits the landscape of his album “Deez to Blues” (Playscape), with Steven Bernstein on trumpet and Charles Burnham on violin, among others. On Wednesday he leads his Double Tenor Quintet, featured on a more recent album, “Ancestors” (Playscape); the two tenors in question are Tony Malaby and Jimmy Greene. Friday at 9 and 10:30 p.m., Cornelia Street Café, 29 Cornelia Street, West Village, (212) 989-9319,; cover, $10, with a one-drink minimum. Wednesday at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m., Iridium, 1650 Broadway, at 51st Street, (212) 582-2121,; cover, $25, with a $15 minimum.

MIKE REED AND JEFF PARKER (Wednesday and Thursday) Mr. Reed, a drummer, composer and festival presenter from Chicago, released two strong records last year on the 482 Music label, each a reflection of his inclusive spirit of modernity. Here he teams up with Mr. Parker, a guitarist of similar temperament and perspective, for a blend of improvised and premeditated duets. At 10 p.m., the Stone, Avenue C and Second Street, East Village,; cover, $10. (Chinen)

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