I've frequently called Sam Rivers the most criminally undervalued giant in jazz. But it's getting harder to make that claim: this year the maverick 81-year-old sax legend is up for the Jazz Journalists Association's Lifetime Achievement award, and recently everyone from brilliant young pianist Jason Moran to avant gardist Steven Bernstein to Toronto's NOJO have called on the increasingly esteemed Rivers' services. One of Rivers' latest suitors is the young Danish drummer Kresten Osgood, the driving force behind Purple Violets. Recorded in New York with the bassist Ben Street, the disc is a grab bag of melodic inside and discordant outside pieces. There's one standard, Ellington's "The Mooche ; the rest are originals credited variously to one or more of the record's four musicians (the wonderful vibraphonist Bryan Carrott joins on several tracks). Rivers, though a bit restrained, never fails to fascinate, and Carrott is excellent throughout, but the disc has a hurried, under-rehearsed quality to it, particularly in its free pieces. (The usually flawless Street sometimes seems to be searching for breadcrumbs, and, though a tuneful drummer, Osgood often sounds like he's hanging on for dear life.) Not surprisingly, then, the disc's highlight is its closer, the Rivers-Carrott duet, "Space. It's a delicate tour de force of simpatico free improvisation, with neither musician missing a trick.
Renewed interest in Rivers means reissues; in this case, it's his second Blue Note disc, 1965's Contours, which is rightfully up for this year's JJA Best Reissue Award. A dream quintet date, with Rivers leading Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Joe Chambers through a program of four self-penned originals (plus one alternate take), the record is everything you hope for from the great man. Swinging, raucous, unpredictable, intriguing, thrilling (and beautifully remastered), Contours is a prime example of Rivers' genius for making the avant-garde accessible and the accessible avant-garde. Grab it while you can.
Dance With Death
Also up this year for JJA's Best Reissue is pianist Andrew Hill's 1968 Blue Note quintet date, Dance with Death. For those familiar with Hill, there's nothing startlingly new here, but the pianist's inimitably jagged, broken-chorded, time-shifting, darkly cerebral style is on full display. And the group is a curious one, with woefully under-recorded trumpeter Charles Tolliver, chronically under-appreciated saxophonist Joe Farrell and infrequently heard bassist Victor Sproles all represented at once. (Traps legend Billy Higgins happily rounds out the band.) Tolliver is fiery and brash, Farrell sings on soprano, and, though Sproles seems a tad buried in the mix, the remastering is otherwise excellent. A fine introduction for the Hill neophyte, and a worthy addition to any fan's collection.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: 1. Solace 2. The Mooche 3. Captain America 4. Abalone 5. In Search of Black Benny 6. Turbulence 7. Where to Go?!? 8. Moderation 9. Space
Personnel: Sam Rivers (tenor, soprano saxophones, flute); Ben Street (bass); Kresten Osgood (drums); Bryan Carrott (vibes)
Tracks: 1. Point of Many Returns 2. Dance of the Tripedal 3. Euterpe 4. Mellifluous Cacophony 5. Mellifluous Cacophony (alt tk)
Personnel: Sam Rivers (tenor, soprano saxophones, flute); Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); Herbie Hancock (piano); Ron Carter (bass); Joe Chambers (drums)
Dance with Death
Tracks: 1. Yellow Violet 2. Partitions 3. Fish'n Rice 4. Dance With Death 5. Love Nocturne 6. Black Sabbath 7. Dance With Death (alt tk)
Personnel: Andrew Hill (piano); Joe Farrell (tenor, soprano saxophones); Charles Tolliver (trumpet); Victor Sproles (bass); Billy Higgins (drums)
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