With the fourth issue in its Sam Rivers archival series, the NoBusiness imprint has unearthed a cracking concert recording of a terrific quartet, completed by bassist Dave Holland, drummer Thurman Barker and tubaist Joe Daley. Very few can match Rivers' breadth of experience, which includes not only with leading lights of the 1960s New Thing like Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler and Bill Dixon, but also stylistic antecedents like Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie (the last during the late 1980s). What that indicates is an openness affirmed by Rivers' freewheeling anything-goes approach with this band.
This 1979 radio broadcast from Hamburg comes nine months after the same group waxed Waves (Tomato, 1979), Barker's first encounter with Rivers. He was certainly fully assimilated by the time of this date, playing an equal part in the seamless flow. Even so, Holland remains supremely at home in Rivers' music. After some seven years collaboration they enjoy near telepathic communication, changing tack so instantaneously that it can sound prearranged. Similarly, some of the melodic figures that Rivers extemporizes, reworks and reprises are likely the product of years of touring rather than charts.
The first of two selections, "An Evening In Hamburg Part I," might be a mini suite for Rivers' tenor saxophone. It passes through multiple emotional terrains, beginning with a frothing rubato, until Holland starts a swinging vamp and Rivers turns boppish, periodically goosed by Barker's exploding accents. A chamber section follows in which both Daley and Holland elegantly counterpoint Rivers' sinewy lines, before going out, the tuba yodelling rejoinders to the saxophonist's yelping scream in animated interaction. What must number among Rivers' finest tenor outings on record closes with a dirge-like wind down after 18-minutes.
Each member of the group proves adept at hinting at form, even when it's not explicitly present, both through dramatic solo development (both Barker and Holland deliver tremendous unaccompanied spots in "Part II") and through the cohesive arc of ensemble performance.
One splendid example of on-the-fly arrangement surfaces during "Part II" when Rivers embarks on a jaunty flute groove. At first only Daley keeps him company, his tuba dancing nimbly in consort, while Holland and Barker hold back just when you would expect them to slot in behind. They eventually add light accompaniment, Barker seemingly on tambourine initially, until finally Rivers introduces the breezy refrain, which later appeared as "Verve" on Contrasts (ECM, 1980), for a joyous payoff and end to a thoroughly entertaining album.
An Evening in Hamburg - Part One; An Evening in Hamburg - Part Two.
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