Jan 6, 2012
Sam Rivers, the noted saxophone player, died on December 26, 2011 at his home in Orlando, Florida. He was 88 years old. He was among the finest free jazz improvisers of the late 1960’s.
A close friend of the young Tony Williams, Rivers was recommended by the drummer to his boss Miles Davis, who added him to the developing Mile Davis Quintet in 1964. Their performances are captured on the album Miles in Tokyo, and show a band struggling to develop a musical identity. Not surprisingly, Wayne Shorter replaced him in the fall of that year.
On a series of Blue Note recordings in the middle to late ’60s, beginning with Tony Williams’s first album as a leader, Life Time, Mr. Rivers expressed his ideas more freely. He made four albums of his own for the label, the first of which — Fuchsia Swing Song, with Williams, Jaki Byard (piano) and Ron Carter (bass), was considered a landmark of experimental post-bop, with a free-flowing yet structurally sound style. “Beatrice,” a ballad from that album Mr. Rivers named after his wife, would become a jazz standard.
Rivers pushed further toward abstraction in the late ’60s, moving to New York and working as a sideman with the uncompromising pianists Andrew Hill and Cecil Taylor. In 1970 he and his wife opened Studio Rivbea, a noncommercial performance space, in their loft on Bond Street in the East Village. It served as an avant-garde hub through the end of the decade, anchoring what would be known as the loft scene.
The albums Mr. Rivers made for Impulse Records in the ’70s would further cement his reputation in the avant-garde. After Studio Rivbea closed in 1979, Mr. Rivers continued to lead several groups, including a big band called the Rivbea Orchestra, a woodwind ensemble called Winds of Change and a virtuosic trio with the bassist Dave Holland and the drummer Barry Altschul. With the trio, Mr. Rivers often demonstrated his gift as a multi-instrumentalist, extemporizing fluidly on saxophone, piano and flute.
Although he would tour less as years went on, he was still in demand as leader and sideman, most notably by Jason Moran on his stunning album Black Stars.
Sam Rivers and the Rivbea Orchestra — Trilogy (Mosaic), a three-CD set featuring recordings from 2008 and 2009 was released last year. To hear previously unreleased recordings from the orchestra in 2007, can be found as Track 01 and Track 02 at BigOzine.
The personnel are Sam Rivers, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Byard Lancaster, , Rene McLean, Chico Freeman (reeds); Frank Gordon, Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet); George Lewis (trombone, tuba); Charles Stephens (trombone); Youseff Yancy (third trumpeter); Joe Daley (tuba); Don Pullen (piano); Abdul Wadud (cello); Brian Smith, Dave Holland (bass, cello); and Barry Altschul and Charlie Persip (drums)