CD review

Sam Rivers – “Ricochet”

Sam Rivers – Ricochet
(No Business Records NBCD 128. CD review by Olie Brice)

Lithuanian record label No Business has been mining a golden stream of material with its archive series of previously unreleased live Sam Rivers recordings. Following two fantastic CDs, the trio album Emanation and the quintet album Zenith (REVIEWED HERE), here is a third entitled Ricochet. This time the band is the greatest of Rivers’ working groups, his trio with Dave Holland on double bass and cello and Barry Altschul on drums, recorded live at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner in 1978. This trio recorded two great studio albums, Paragon and The Quest, as well as making up the central core of various larger combinations adding other musicians, perhaps most famously Holland’s groundbreaking album Conference of the Birds with Anthony Braxton.

Sam Rivers Ricochet album coverThere haven’t been a huge number of ongoing, working bands that played completely improvised music, and this trio deserves to be talked about as one of the most significant. All three musicians had a hugely rich involvement in the history and tradition of jazz, while also having been involved in the earliest stages of free improvisation developing as a separate stream in the music.

Sam Rivers had worked in Cecil Taylor’s group in 1969, as well as blurring the boundaries of freedom and compositions in his own groups and with the likes of Miles Davis and Andrew Hill. Holland was playing both straight ahead jazz at Ronnie Scott’s and taking part in some of the earliest European free improv with the likes of Evan Parker, John Surman, Trevor Watts and John Stevens, before Miles called him to New York. Altschul grew up in the Bronx playing bebop with the likes of Jackie McLean and Donald Byrd, and was also involved in groundbreaking free playing with Paul Bley in the mid-60s.

This shared and varied background is constantly apparent in the music. The trio embraces a wide range from atonal, chamber-like improvisation to dancing, riff-based grooves with a clear tonal centre to exhilarating, swinging free jazz. The speed and fluency with which they pick up on each other’s suggestions and organically move between improvised sections is a delight. The multi-instrumentalist abilities of both Rivers and Holland means that while only a trio the group could cover a huge range of combinations. Including solo sections, I counted eight different instrumental combinations over the course of the 52-minute set. Rivers starts on soprano, and plays piano and then tenor before ending on flute. Holland begins and ends the album on double bass, and plays cello for an extended section, both with piano, solo and with tenor.

As with the previous editions in this archive series, the album is well packaged with some fantastic photographs and informative liner notes. The sound is clearly that of a live bootleg that has been cleaned up – the horns sound great and bass and cello are always clear, but drums lack a bit of detail and clarity. However, the overall sound is warm and engaging and while obviously not studio quality, this doesn’t detract at all from the journey of the music. A fantastic addition to the recorded legacy of one of the great improvising groups.

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