Sam Rivers: Contrasts (ECM 1162)

 

Sam Rivers
Contrasts

Sam Rivers soprano and tenor saxophones, flute
George Lewis trombone
Dave Holland bass
Thurman Barker drums, marimba
Recorded December 1979 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

It’s a funny thing about getting lost: the more one tries to do it consciously, the more one discovers new pieces to fit into the jigsaw puzzle of familiar things. Jazz legend Sam Rivers, who made his only other ECM appearance on the classic Conference of the Birds, proved this sonically when he brought his patented “inside-out” technique to bear alongside Dave Holland, George Lewis, and Thurman Barker upon this free jazz date from 1979. Now in his 88th year, Rivers’s legacy continues to yield new nuggets of audio wisdom through such albums as Contrasts.

The album opens in “Circles” with some chewy improv. Thick horns and brittle drumming provide plenty of interplay to keep our wits on a tight leash. Lewis seems the most at home here, providing a bubbling cauldron of likeminded flights. It is the first in a smattering of freer tracks, the others being the slowly building “Solace” and perhaps the most abstract aside, “Images.” This leaves us with a hefty set of rhythm-driven powerhouses. “Zip” tightens the purse strings with an ever-moving tenor for some wholesome, head-nodding goodness. This joint also serves up a heaping drum solo on the side. Our frontman opts for flute in the swinging “Verve” with a renewed spring in his step. Convincing monologues from Holland and Lewis ease into a slow and timid end. “Lines” reprises that contagious soprano sax against an omniscient rhythm section before bowing out for some quality bass time. “Dazzle” brings exactly that, freeing our minds with a Braxton-esque tenor and tap-dancing bass work. Lewis is more than up to the task, scurrying in with Rivers in their joint commitment to going deeper.

As one of ECM’s bolder sessions, Contrasts deserves shelf space right next to George Adams’s Sound Suggestions. It is nothing if not about contrasts: the cohesive and the fractured, uprightness and vertigo. Colorful, straightforward, stirring.

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