Fluid Motion with Sam Rivers, Fluid Motion

Charles Farrell

By Charles Farrell

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

During the mid '60's, saxophonist Sam Rivers made a brief appearance as one of the potential leading lights of the new music that had sprung up in New York City. He had already briefly played in Miles Davis's quintet, serving as the bridge tenor player between George Coleman and Wayne Shorter. Sam had also started recording on Blue Note and was gaining a reputation as one of the significant post-Coltrane saxophonists.

Finally recorded properly, a master is recognized as such

Rivers'playing never broke through to a mainstream jazz audience however. After opening the legendary jazz performance loft Studio Rivbea with his wife Beatrice in lower Manhattan, he became a kind of cult figure, acquiring status among fellow musicians, but not widespread fame.

It's possible that his musical language was too idiosyncratic. Maybe it was that he didn't confine himself to one or two instruments, instead playing tenor, soprano, flute and, later, piano.

But it may have been that, prior to Fluid Motion, no recording engineer ever successfully reproduced Rivers's sound.

Recorded at the Springs Studio in Tampa, Florida, engineer John Stephan used a unique miking system that accurately captures Rivers 'tone (here confined to tenor and soprano) in all its richness and complexity. Additionally the live room sound lends the music an immediacy that makes Sam's working group of bassist Doug Matthews, drummer Anthony Cole, and trumpeter Jonathan Powell, along with trombonist David Manson, who wrote and arranged all of the material, sound particularly alive.

Manson composes small, epigrammatic pieces — the written parts very precise but with lots of available space. This gives the players both form and freedom.

Rivers is a master of this kind of inside-outside playing, but the whole band proves adept in the idiom. Matthews and Cole work largely in tandem, creating a spiky, churning backdrop for the soloists. They're not slick players, but they are highly effective, virtually devoid of cliché. Powell is an interesting find. There's a strong Don Cherry influence in his playing, yet there are also bop overtones, and — unlike Cherry — he gets a big, wide-open sound. Manson, as a soloist, is somewhat deferential to his colleagues but contributes significantly in the ensemble passages.

Fluid Motion is both accessible and challenging, and an unexpected find of genuine value.