cecilmcbee

Sam Rivers ‘Involution’

Birthday boy Sam Rivers would have turned 95 years young today. Many know him for his brief stint in the sax chair in @milesdavis embryonic Second Great Quintet where he replaced George Coleman. Rivers would last only briefly (appearing on ‘Miles in Tokyo’) before being replaced by Wayne Shorter. Rivers then stepped out as leader and sideman for Blue Note, Impulse!, Black Saint, RCA, Horo and his own Rivbea label. Rivbea was a portmanteau of his name and his wife Bea, and also the name of their loft where numerous free jazz sessions were held in NYC during the 70s. This two-fer contains a pair of Blue Note sessions from the 60s: one is a quartet under pianist Andrew Hill’s leadership (later released on CD as ‘Change’) featuring Walter Booker (bass) and J.C. Moses (drums) recorded 7 March 1966; the other a sextet under Rivers’ leadership (later issued as ‘Dimensions and Extensions’) recorded 17 Mar 1967 featuring Donald Byrd (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), James Spaulding (alto sax/flute), Cecil McBee (bass) and Steve Ellington (drums). Both share a lot of musical DNA—an elusive tonal center, playing that stretches harmonic boundaries and timekeeping that’s not exactly built for clapping along. The compositions are complex and challenging—there’s a lot of “out” playing here as the knotty heads of each tune serve as a launchpad to some seriously ambitious and adventurous group improvisation. Dig deep—there’s swing and beauty though both can be elusive, and don’t believe anyone who says “it’s out there, but still really accessible!”. It’s not…certainly not in the way that Rivers’ earlier Blue Note records like ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’ or ‘Contours’ can sound like hard/post bop records with occasional sharp elbows. ‘Involution’ isn’t for beginners. Or those who are learning to waltz. This is challenging but ultimately really rewarding music. As I’ve previously noted, this beige-cover Blue Note Classics series is uniformly excellent—great pressings, informative liner notes and material that’s otherwise difficult to find. They are also often reasonably priced and pretty easy to find in the wild. Recommended

Charles Tolliver’s Music Inc.

Full-contact jazz that challenges every big band cliché. Way beyond one giant swing-a-long, you’ve got a core quartet of Charles Tolliver (trumpet) Stanley Cowell (piano) Cecil McBee (bass) and Jimmy Hopps (drums) going toe-to-toe with a thirteen-piece brass section. The core four handle the majority of the solos while the big band summon a tsunami of sound, sometimes supporting and sometimes challenging the quartet in a battle of groove. Props to bassist Cecil McBee, who to my ears is the hero of the session, laying down sinewy, elastic bass lines that are a masterclass in soulful inspiration. This record sounds modern, fresh and HUGE. Music Inc. was recently reissued by @purepleasurerecords. The original was the debut release on Strata East, Tolliver/Cowell’s artist-oriented label of the 1970s. Brilliant stuff. The big band: Jimmy Heath, Clifford Jordan, Bobby Brown, Wilbur Brown (saxes); Richard Williams, Virgil Jones, Larry Greenwich, Danny Moore (trumpets); Garnett Brown, Curtis Fuller, John Gordon, Dick Griffin (trombones); Howard Johnson (tuba, baritone sax