CD review

Sam Rivers Quintet – “Zenith”

Sam Rivers Quintet – Zenith
(No Business NBCD 124. CD review by Olie Brice)

This is the second in a hugely welcome series of previously unreleased live Sam Rivers recordings, curated by Ed Hazell for the No Business label. The first release, a fantastic trio set with Cecil McBee and Norman Connors, was reviewed HERE. To my ears this one, recorded at the Berlin Jazztage in November 1977, is even better.

The Quintet features Rivers’ core working trio with Dave Holland (double bass and cello) and Barry Altschul (drums), augmented by Joe Daley on tuba and a second drummer, Charlie Persip. The group contains a huge range of possible combinations, with Rivers switching between tenor, flute, soprano and piano. At times Daley functions as a second horn, improvising counterpoint to River’s saxophones, and other times he grooves in the bass role, freeing Holland to switch to cello.

On paper Altschul and Persip sounds like an unlikely combination. Altschul was an early pioneer of free jazz drumming, with a hugely inventive palate of sounds and a definite sense of surrealism – in one interview he described working out how to play drums in a free jazz context by “taking an acid trip, going to the ocean and sitting listening to the waves hitting against the rocks”. Persip on the other hand was best known for his work in big bands led by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Tadd Dameron. However, the two drummers play wonderfully together, able to join in a polyrhythmic flow of swinging elastic time but equally happy with a seriously funky groove with the tuba under flute and cello interplay.

Sam Rivers had an incredibly wide conception of improvised music. Only three years younger than Charlie Parker, he was simultaneously a master within the tradition and a groundbreaking innovator, comfortable in bands led by Miles Davis or playing completely freely and collaborating with European free improv musicians like Alexander von Schlippenbach. His free music as a bandleader was always unusual in incorporating swing, odd time grooves and abstraction in a completely organic flow. This album is a prime example of that – five great improvisers developing an ever-changing piece of music without any limitations of genre. I look forward to hearing what further exciting Sam Rivers ‘bootlegs’ No Business have lined up for us.

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