Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sam Rivers Has Passed

People are posting on Jazzcorner's Speakeasy that Sam Rivers has passed away. He was a magnificent saxophonist and composer from Oklahoma who studied at the Boston Conservatory, and who first came to national attention with a short stint in Miles Davis' Quintet in the early 60's. His intense, often gut-wrenching style wasn't a good fit for that band, but he went on to record some wonderful dates for Blue Note during the rest of that decade and for Impulse in the 1970's. He's also notable for being a pioneer in the NYC "Loft Jazz" movement by opening Studio Rivbea. The Wildflowers sessions, originally released on Alan Douglas' label, were recorded there.

He eventually moved to Orlando, Florida in the early 90's, where he cultivated a group of sympathetic musicians to play his music, many of whom worked in the theme park orchestras around the area. Some of his recent big band performances were recently released by Mosaic Records as a Mosaic Select set called Trilogy.

I remember walking into my local record store as a high schooler in the 70's and picking up his Blue Note Reissue Series two-fer Involution. That record blew me away, his intense style really speaking to me. He's always been one of my favorite tenor players, with a style above Coltrane in my opinion. I was less enthralled with his soprano and flute playing, but I tend to like those horns less no matter who is playing them.

If you've never heard Rivers' work, a good place to start is with one of the reissues of his Blue Note work, such as Fuschia Swing Song or Contours. He was also part of a classic ECM date by Dave Holland, Conference of the Birds with Anthony Braxton and Barry Altschul. If you can find a copy of  Crystals, his big band recording on Impulse from 1974, grab it.

Here's probably Sam Rivers' best known composition, Beatrice, named after his wife:

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