Friday, October 05, 2012

CD Review: Sam Rivers/ Dave Holland/ Barry Altschul - Reunion: Live in New York

Sam Rivers/ Dave Holland/ Barry Altschul
Reunion: Live In New York

In the liner notes to Reunion, drummer Barry Altschul says that when he, Dave Holland (bass) and Sam Rivers (reeds) joined forces in the 1970s, they typically played all day. "If we had to go to the bathroom, then it was a duo. If we had to eat, there was maybe a solo. But the music continued from eleven to five," he says. That's the kind of musical devotion that creates a unit that really knows how to interact. Further, if you've established a rapport that way, and sustained a group for six years, then there is a good chance that 25 years of separation may seem more like 25 days.

That's the way it came off in May 2007 when the trio reconvened at Columbia University's Miller Theatre to cap off the week-long Sam Rivers Festival presented by WKCR, the school's radio station. They hadn't played together since the summer of 1978, and the only preparation they made for the performance was a brief soundcheck. But it's clear that was all they needed because the two sets they played (resulting in two discs) were shining examples of free improvisation where everything moves forward. Both sets were continuous performances, which Pi has conveniently banded into five and four tracks, respectively, for easier listening. Of course anyone listening probably will want to hear both sets in their entirety each time, rather than skipping around.

Rivers begins on tenor, butting up against Holland before the bassist starts walking. While the saxophonist plays over the 4/4, it's easy to imagine his lines coming across like an actual conversation with his mates. These guys are taking the time to catch up with each other. As the first set moves forward, Rivers never settles down since he has an unending flow of musical ideas, none of which, for the record, involve off-the-handle screams either. Rivers, who passed away last year on the day after Christmas, considered "free" music to be what was played when a musician's mind is completely free of preconceptions. "No preconceived idea, no preconceived melodies or harmonic attitude," as the liner notes state it. It looks all those long days of woodshedding paid off.

One of the most satisfying moments of the whole set can be found at the beginning of the second disc. After a bass solo that shows off Holland's speed and penchant for dramatic accents, he is joined by Altschul and Rivers, the latter on flute. The way they play sounds so electric, so driven in a way that feels rare on jazz albums these days.

There are moments on both discs when Holland hits upon a riff that he sticks to for awhile. It's never done to get groove going or a vamp, it simply makes sense for the band to see how they can use it generate excitement. And they always deliver. Rivers also sits down at the piano for a while (as well as soprano sax), warming up with some strange melodies that lead into a section that almost feels like a ballad.

Altschul manages to sound relaxed but forceful throughout the whole performance too. After a drum solo towards the end of the first set he sets things up for his bandmates to join him. The first time I heard it, I felt the downbeat in the wrong place, and had to reevaluate the position once Holland kicked it. It made me wonder if Holland too might have been feeling it in the wrong spot. But if that was the case, you wouldn't know it because they create something powerful regardless of where it the band landed.

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