Of all the groups and venues that were part of the '70's loft jazz scene in New York, none surpassed the Sam Rivers trio with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul at his Studio Rivbea on Bond Street. Although this trio was together from 1972 to 1978, they only recorded twice--The Quest (1976) and Paragon (1977)--but they appeared on other albums with additional musicians, such as Rivers' Sizzle (1973) and Holland's Conference of the Birds (1972). (Rivers occasionally led other trios, a notable example being with Cecil McBee and Norman Connors as heard on the 1973 album Streams.) On May 25, 2007 at Columbia University's Miller Theatre, a then 84-year-old Rivers, Holland and Altschul reunited to play for the first time in 25 years. This two-CD package presents two complete sets from that night, one on each disc. The continuous, non-stop, totally improvised music has been arbitrarily divided into "Parts" for easier navigation. This is Rivers' special brand of free-form jazz, as Rivers gravitates amongst each of his four instruments--tenor, soprano, flute, and piano--and anything goes, from melody, harmony, and rhythm, to dissonance and atonality. Back in the '70's the trio would rehearse for hours on end in order to try to deal with and diminish the inevitable stagnant periods in the musical flow, and also to, as Rivers put it, "run through all your clichés." For the 2007 reunion concert, their "rehearsal" consisted of just a ten-minute sound check, and yet the music they created compares quite favorably to what fortunate audiences heard them play back in the day at Studio Rivbea.
Part 1 of the first set begins with Rivers on tenor in a tense opening with staccato phrasing. Holland walks insistently, while Altschul keeps a pitter-patter rhythm with more vigorous accents atop. Rivers becomes more ruminating midway, allowing space for Holland's throbbing arco expressions to penetrate, as Altschul responds with percussive devices.
Part 2: Rivers' tenor wails and swirls, and Holland and Altschul develop an intricate yet infectious rhythmic pulse. Rivers turns pensive, and his cohorts react intuitively and with like minds. Just as quickly, the trio goes into hyper drive as one, with Rivers maintaining a tumultuous pace. A rubato interlude follows, spacey and mystical, with a pulsating rhythm gradually introduced.
Part 3: Holland holds the audience spellbound with a forcefully intoned four-minute solo that mixes motifs and repeated figures with rumbling extended lines. Rivers, now on piano, and Altschul enter tentatively, and Sam plays impressionistic passages that slowly intensify. Holland and Altschul respond with differing yet somehow complementary attacks. Rivers' playing then takes a reflectively melodic bent as his mates bow out, an extended stint that displays his perhaps under-appreciated ability on the instrument. When the trio reconvenes its in a buoyant Latin mode that soon dissolves for Altschul's solo spot, a compelling creation that exhibits his dexterity and acute sense of form.
Part 4: Rivers' soprano unwinds like a snake charmer alongside Holland's arco long tones. Soon the two are in edgy staccato counterpoint, which is then replaced by a surging interlude that has the bassist and drummer in driving rhythmic cooperation while Rivers revels in lucid, endearing post bop phrasings. Holland's pensive pizzicato solo is absorbing and moving.
Part 5: Still on soprano, Rivers solos next with spiraling threads and guttural moans. Holland's hypnotic ostinato backing Rivers continues on for Altschul's improv as well, the drummer emphatically reaching a peak of articulation that he controls and sustains adroitly. Rivers' flute makes its debut, first haltingly and then in a very up tempo trip comprised of quick, energetic bird-like chirps. The first set ends on this note.
Part 1 of the second set commences with a mesmerizing statement by Holland, shortly joined by Rivers' trilling flute and Altschul's lively brush work. Holland's semi-walking, ceaselessly propelling bass lines appear to inspire Rivers' escalating improvisation. When the drummer switches to sticks, the trio's interaction becomes even more engaging. Changing on a dime, dissonance intrudes as Altschul's mallets rumble over the bassist's sustained arco probings.
Part 2: Rivers adds vocalized effects to his swirling unaccompanied flute interlude, introducing a melodic strain as he's joined by the others in a section that cavorts with irresistible vitality. Holland's solo perpetuates the jubilant mood with Altschul's march-like pattern in enhancing accord. Rivers reenters on tenor and the atmosphere alters precipitously, as an exploratory urgency materializes. Rivers plays incantatory lines with Holland's bottomless and eerie arco musings in response. The full trio, with Holland pizzicato, then saunters away as Rivers adopts a spiritually testifying frame of mind.
Part 3: Altschul solos fervidly, bass drum dominating, succeeded by Holland's subdued but transfixing improv, in which he initiates several catchy motifs and riffs.
Part 4: Rivers' tenor enters with twisting, heated exaltations, as Holland and Altschul prod him resolutely into denser and denser captivating textures that eventually recede to ultimately conclude the second set.
The release date for this recording was 9-25-12, the day Rivers, who died last December, would have celebrated his 89th birthday.
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