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: 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: 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: Sam Rivers – Emanation [No Business Records NBCD118]

It is June 3, 1971, and the Sam Rivers Trio—which in addition to the multi-instrumentalist leader included Cecil McBee on bass and Norman Connors on drums and percussion—is playing Boston’s Jazz Workshop. The trio, which Rivers formed when he was at or near the end of his 1969-1971 tenure with the Cecil Taylor Unit, had played the Jazz Workshop the previous February; excerpts from a recording of that performance found their way onto Rivers’ 1973 album Hues, which for many of us at the time was our introduction to Rivers’ improvised trio music. A later, fuller performance by the trio, recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July, 1973, was released the same year. But here, on the June, 1971 Boston Jazz Workshop recording, we can hear a complete performance by the group at an early stage of their development. And it was an auspicious start indeed.

The two sets captured on Emanations are valuable not only in their own right—the music, as would be expected, is exhilarating—but for what they show of Rivers’ approach to free improvisation in a small-group setting. Both sets, each of which is presented as a single long track, are steered by Rivers’ playing on a succession of instruments—tenor saxophone, flute and piano for the first set, soprano saxophone, flute and piano and voice for the second set—and take on the structure, more-or-less spontaneously arrived at, of a suite, each segment of which is shaped by Rivers’ choice of instrument as well as by ongoing changes of tempo and dynamics. But the suite-like nature of the sets isn’t just a matter of structure: during each section Rivers spins out tautly melodic passages that give the section a distinctive, thematically coherent profile. The music may unfold as a stream of consciousness, but it’s one that’s focused and never loses sight of its own musical logic. It’s a focused logic that carries over to the rhythm section as well. McBee and Connors support the lead line with fast and slow swing rhythms, Afro-Latin grooves and ostinati, or more fluid, meterless playing at the music’s transition points. In addition, McBee’s long solo during the first set adds a dramatic element of timbral and dynamic contrast to the sound of the full trio.

Emanation is the first of a series of No Business Records’ planned releases of music from Rivers’ vast archive. As with the trio’s June, 1971 performance at the Jazz Workshop, it is also an auspicious start.

Daniel Barbiero

Jazz on Edge in Orlando

Jazz on Edge has a show coming up in Orlando on February 2010.

Headliners for the main show are pianist Edward Simon, and the Tiptons Saxophone Quartet (with Amy Denio, Jessica Lurie, Sue Orfield and Tina Richerson), with an after-hours benefit jam with free jazz trumpeter Brian Groder (recordings with Sam Rivers, Burton Greene).

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Sam Rivers: Avant-garde jazz master to perform at University of Miami’s Frost School of Music

From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Sam Rivers is no ordinary snowbird, although he was looking to escape wintry Northern climes when he dropped anchor in Orlando in 1991.

Long considered a giant of avant-garde jazz, the saxophonist, flutist, pianist and composer had recorded a string of adventurous, milestone albums for the Blue Note and Impulse labels; toured with the bands of Miles Davis and Cecil Taylor; and kickstarted the experimental loft-scene in New York City with his free-jazz laboratory Studio Rivbea.

But Rivers had no plans to retire. He found a font of great local players, who were eager to stretch, among the musicians on the Disney dole as well as on the faculty at the University of Central Florida. Utilizing his regular trio mates as the free-swinging rhythm section, Rivers formed the Rivbea Orchestra to play his swirling, color-filled compositions and arrangements.

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Bagatellen Reviews

From Bagatellen:

Giuseppi Logan – Quartet (ESP-Disk’)
Until resurfacing with the aid of Brooklyn pastor Dr. Bill Jones, reedman Giuseppi Logan was, like Henry Grimes, one of the lost enigmas of contemporary improvisation. Born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1935, Logan studied at the New England Conservatory and worked in a notable but unrecorded Bill Dixon group with Rashied Ali, drums; […]

The Blue Note 7 – Mosaic (Blue Note Records)
Certain discs make for instant soapboxes for admirers and detractors alike. This one, an album-sized mouthpiece for Blue Note Records 70th anniversary celebration, certainly seems fit for contention both in the questions it raises and the liberties it assumes. The ensemble operating under the otherwise anonymous moniker is a benighted collection of neo […]

Zaid Nasser – Off Minor
From title to back-story, altoist Zaid Nasser’s Smalls debut communicated a situation indicative of the jazz life, that of the colossal talent constrained by the circumstances of public indifference. This second act feels more hopeful and, by proxy, more relaxed. Nasser’s still scuffling for gigs along with his peers, but he’s been visited by […]

Ben Stapp Trio – Ecstasis
Tuba-led groups aren’t particularly common in improvised music; perhaps Ray Draper’s recordings for Prestige were among the most notable in the instrument’s brief discography, not to mention Sam Rivers’ 1970s Tuba Trio with Bob Stewart. Recently, tenorman Kalaparusha employed Jesse Dulman in his trio with drummer Ravish Momin. Tubaist Ben Stapp recorded with Lisbon-based […]

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