Culmination

COMPOSERS: Sam Rivers
LABELS: BMG
ALBUM TITLE: Sam Rivers
PERFORMER: Sam Rivers (ss, ts, fl), Steve Coleman, Greg Osby (as), Chico Freeman, Gary Thomas (ts), Hamiet Bluiett (bs), Ray Anderson, Joseph Bowie, Art Baron (tb), Ravi Best, Ralph Alessi, James Zoller, Baikida Carroll (t), Joseph Daley (bar hn), Bob Stewart (tb),
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 68311 2

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Sam Rivers has been at the cutting edge of jazz since 1960 and he’ll celebrate his 70th birthday in September this year. A highly schooled and experienced musician and composer, he is conversant with European classical music and with all aspects of Afro-American music.

Although Rivers has worked with other leaders, including six months with Miles Davis in 1964, and five years with Cecil Taylor (1968- 73), he has always been something of a loner, making an independent creative contribution as both music-maker and teacher.

In 1971, with his wife Bea, he opened Studio Rivbea at their New York loft, as a teaching and music performance centre, and Culmination is one of the fruits of that venture, with all seven pieces composed by Rivers. Most of the musicians in his all-star orchestra have worked intermittently with him over the past three decades, and they perform this adventurous music with great panache.

One or two of the pieces are atonal, and in most, thick, dissonant chords are employed, but the general method harks back to the big bands of the Thirties and Forties, because the ensembles are tight, and a series of short solos with ingenious riff backings, plus underlying rhythms never far from the dance, shape most of the performances.

There are also occasional brief passages of collective improvisation which refer back to early jazz. The ensemble has no chordal instrument and soloists often begin with the stark accompaniment of only bass and drums which enhances the drama.

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Within this framework there is plenty of variety, and one piece, ‘Ripples’, is even a ballad with a harmonic sequence and mellow backgrounds. This is very compelling and rewarding music, and Rivers’s lengthy and thoughtful notes put the whole project in clear perspective.