ECM Listening, Day 8- Sam Rivers, Contrasts

Sam Rivers, saxophones

George Lewis, trombone

Dave Holland, bass

Thurman Barker, drums

The musical collaboration between Rivers and Holland is in full glory on this record.  After several collaborations through the 1970s, it’s obvious from this 1980 recording that their musical voices blend perfectly, and the addition of the the other musicians on this record only further depth of the music.  The third track on the record, “Solace” includes Barker playing marimba and Holland using his bow, as well as lilting melodies by Rivers and extended brass techniques by Lewis.  As a fan of New Music, I’d fully believe that this piece was fully planned, notated, and expertly executed in the “classical” sense.  It soon evolves into a “free jazz” environment, then back to a more subdued texture similar to the opening, after which it concludes rapidly.

It’s not always easy to discern “form” in free improvisation, however there’s no doubt in my mind of the musicians’ intentions to convey this aspect of musical practice.   This self-imposed musical limitation provides a nice contrast to the often free-wheeling and unstructured “free” improvisations attempted by creative improvising musicians.  However, my feeling is that a certain amount of spontaneity, one of the most attractive characteristics of free improvisation, is lost in deference to a type of “improvisation game.”  In fact, I enjoyed the tracks on this record that were more clearly free and allowed to unfold with the whims of the musicians.

Despite this, the music on this album is varied and interesting, and covers a wide array of jazz “styles,” holding true to the album’s name.  Each musician displays plenty of technical ability, musical taste, and creativity.  It definitely warrants multiple listenings!

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