There will be no more opportunities to experience saxophonist Sam Rivers, who passed away in 2011, at 89. Then again, you probably hadn't caught him live in decades, since he chose to live in Florida from the early 1990s, although he did release several large ensemble sessions. His 1960s Blue Note Records and 70s Impulse! dates continue to be treasured classics. What ardent fans and collectors look for these days are his trio LPs with bassist Dave Holland
and drummer Barry Altschul
. Long out-of-print and treasure-seekers booty, these historic (yet obscure) sounds from Rivers' 1970s trio delineated a new path for free jazz that didn't jettison melody for dissonance.
Rivers' prior work with trumpeter Miles Davis
and pianists Cecil Taylor
and Andrew Hill
, Holland's post-electric Davis sound, and Altschul's tenure with pianist Paul Bley
created a sort of new sound which could be heard at his now infamous Manhattan Loft sessions.
Certainly these factors set the stage for a historic reunion of the trio. This May, 2007 date at Columbia University capped off a week-long celebration of Rivers by WKCR radio and reunited the three, who hadn't played together in over 25 years.
The nearly one-and-a-half hours of music on two discs was recorded over two lengthy sets of improvised music. The trio glides effortlessly between bebop passages, tonal and atonal breaks and some passionate soloing. Rivers switches between tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and piano, each with its own personality. His tenor paints wide splotches of sound, while his soprano cuts more precise channels. On flute he pops and floats, and his piano sound is informed by a more charming Cecil Taylor
. Where Holland's current ensembles featured his organization, here he is freed up to explore without a map. He takes several solos, passages unexpected yet built like a hurricane-proofed structure.
As for Altschul, his absence from the national spotlight parallels Rivers. He popped up on saxophonist Jon Irabagon
's minor classic Foxy
(Hot Cup Records, 2010), but has been woefully under-recorded as of late. His approach, one of constant dialogue with his partners, is more about accent then beat. He alternately swings, then frees the pulse.
If this recording had been made in 1977 instead of 2007 it would have been a watershed event. Here, it is a masterpiece of a reunion.
CD1 (First Set): Part 1; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; CD2 (Second Set): Part 1; Part 3; Part 4.
Sam Rivers: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, piano: Dave Holland: bass: Barry Altschul: drums.