Click here to [close]

Friday, February 10, 2023

Sam Rivers Archive Series (NoBusiness, 2023)

The Sam Rivers Archive Series looks to be a beautiful physical manifestations of the love and respect that NoBusiness Record's Danas Mikailionis has for NYC loft era free jazz (we're working with PDFs and digital files but I, for one, have my copy on pre-order!). Over the years, NoBusiness has been dedicated to unearthing and releasing long-unheard music from a number of musicians (like Peter Kuhn, Billy Bang, Jameel Moondoc, among others) and quite notably, in 2019, the label began releasing a series of CDs from woodwind player and composer Sam Rivers' extensive archive. Working in conjunction with the dedicated researcher and author Rick Lopez, who recently published a 768-page Sessionography of Rivers, and along with Ed Hazell, who has provided wonderful liner notes for all of the NoBusiness Sam Rivers releases, Mikailionis has picked several choice needles from the haystack of recorded sessions that Sam Rivers' family has made available.

This 5 LP box-set is a summary of the six volumes in the Sam Rivers Archives Project series and also adds some additional previously unheard music to the series. In addition to the LPs, the set is accompanied by an excellent book that includes pictures from the RivBea Loft in downtown NYC in the 1970s to Rivers' final, productive years in Orlando, as well as new text from Hazell and the original CD liner notes. (For a little more on the loft scene, check out Mikailionis and Hazell's visit to the former fabled loft spaces in 2011 here as well as other coverage here.)

As an addition to Rivers discography, this series fills in gaps and adds new dimensions. Picking up after Rivers' progression towards free jazz traced on his Blue Note recordings from the 1960s and his seminal contribution to Dave Holland's Conference of the Birds (ECM, 1972), the archive series is a nice documentation of the RivBea loft time and later. For Mikailionis, it was the "depth of the music, freedom of thought, explorative idea and expression," that brought him to loft era music in general. (If you can find copy, the Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions is a compilation of recordings from various artists at the RivBea loft.) For a little more background, a Q&A with Mikailionis follows this review. 

Now, please join me, Gary Chapin and Tom Burris as we dig into the free and expressive music found in the limited edition Sam Rivers Archive from NoBusiness records.

LP1: Emanation 

The first of the LPs in the set is a selection from the release Emanation, the first of NoBusiness' Sam Rivers' series from 2019. The recording was made on June 3, 1971 at the Jazz Workshop in Rivers' former hometown, Boston. The trio is Rivers, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Norman Connors, the same trio that appeared on the Impulse LP Streams, a live recording from the 1973 Montreaux Jazz Festival. This earlier set is noted in Hazell's liner notes, dripping with metaphor, as the "headwaters of his trio work, the spring from which a large portion of creative output would flow for the remainder of the decade."

Side 1 of the LP is 'Emanation Pt 1,' 24 minutes of flowing improvisation starting with Rivers' playing an extended introduction until Conner's cymbals pan up into the mix, giving a lithe, driving pulse to the evolving free-form melody. As the density of the drumming temporarily dies down, the bass can be heard moving freely, supporting the music. Rivers' reaches a gripping crescendo at about nine minutes into the track, before suddenly backing off into a melodic passage that gives the trio a moment to gather themselves before climbing quickly to another peak of intensity. And then it happens again, Rivers ablaze, and the others reacting quickly. McBee then goes into an extensive solo full of quick runs and expressive phrasings. Rivers rejoins, after stretch, on flute and the group start digging deeper and deeper.

Side 2 picks up with Rivers solo, back on saxophone, playing what seems to be a momentarily a recognizable melody. The bass and drums come in together, offering both support as well as counter melodic efforts that seem to build with some ebb and flow into a stronger current of sound. In a rather noticeable change, the trio drops into a free-jazz-funk groove. Rivers can be heard letting out a scream as the group reaches a dizzying peak of intensity towards the end of the 20 minute track. What a fantastic beginning to the set!

- Paul Acquaro

LP 2: Universal Message

The second record of the set is from 1977, a single day (“Jazztag”) in Berlin. The two sides are ostensibly a continuous performance (more about “ostensibly” in a minute) featuring Rivers on tenor, flute, and piano, Joe Daley on tuba and euphonium, Dave Holland on Bass, Barry Altschul on drums, and Charles Persip, also on drums.

“Universal Message, pt 1” is side one and is a tenor tour de force for Rivers, beginning in a noodling space and speeding up like a fast talker, zero to sixty. The bass, brass, and drums all talk to each other (including some screaming, groaning vocalizations). It’s a frenetic pulseless rant, with the two drums providing a power source. And that’s all in the first three minutes. Space opens up after that opening declaration. Rivers is such a strong blues-based player that he will always come back to melody. There’s a solid groove about halfway through, and then a bass solo that carries us to side two (“Universal Message, pt. 2). Rivers re-enters on flute, creating a different soundspace that we travel in for seventeen minutes. At the seventeen-minute mark there’s a break. Applause seems to rise, like the piece is over. There’s a fade and then Rivers is on piano with the crew, completely wrecking the place. How can I forget what an extraordinary piano player Rivers is? But I do. I forget. And then I’m reminded.

- Gary Chapin

LP 3: Richochet

For the third record, we’ve got the trio of Rivers, Altschul, and Holland playing to us from 1978. The three tracks are “Richochet” parts 1,2, and 3. I’m going to pause for a minute to talk about Holland and Altschul. I’ve been aware of this duo since first hearing Anthony Braxton’s “Five Compositions 1975,” and his other records from that period. Then I heard Holland’s Conference of Birds, (yes, I know it came out before the Braxton recs), featuring Altschul, Braxton, and Sam Rivers. I remember thinking, “What a unique pair Braxton and Rivers are.” And I still think that, but Holland and Altschul are extraordinary. They were one of the pillar rhythm sections of This Kind of Music. I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t know. I’m just expressing appreciation.

The trio starts with Rivers on soprano. Each instrument – soprano, tenor, piano – opens up different possibilities for Rivers, but they all sound so like him. The two sides are 45-ish minute travelogue through the trio’s conversations. Tenor shrieking follows mid-range melody over a bass played with melodic cellismo, and always those shimmering drums.

- Gary Chapin

LP 4: An Evening in Hamburg, Part I / Blossoms (previously unreleased) 

The Hamburg sides date from '79 and feature Joe Daley on Tuba, Dave Holland on bass, and Thurman Barker on drums, who opens with a groove that stops and starts – a bit like a radio signal going in and out on a rainy night while the rest of the band are perfectly audible throughout. Daley goads Rivers and Holland to creating circular patterns of melodic invention. The music builds toward a very mid-70s Holland/Rivers/Altschul dynamic with tuba counterpoint for accentuation. It's completely exhilarating and engrossing right up until the death scene at the end of a spaghetti western. “Blossoms” was previously unreleased in the series. It explores a lot of sonic terrain, including a general aura of 1960s sci-fi and a surrealistic duck fight. The highlight occurs during the last part of the piece in a bizarre space between Baroque and Tropicalia, which features Holland playing folk melodies and chords in the upper register of the bass.

- Tom Burris

LP5: Undulation / Improvisation

“Undulation, Parts I-III” are superb & are from a performance in Florence, Italy from 1981. Guitarist Jerry Byrd adds nice texture to the standard sax/bass/drums mesh we are used to hearing from Rivers' trios from around this time period. Hard to describe how intense this collaboration gets without it sounding like superlative overkill, so I'll just say WOW. Sonically, the drums are too far back in the mix most of the time and Rivers is waaaay out in front; but in no way does this distract from the intensity and fascinating interplay between the musicians. After an unaccompanied solo from Rivers, drummer Steve Ellington and electric bassist Rael-Wesley Grant break loose and bring the funk they've been dying to drop. It is definitely more JB's than Prime Time as Rivers blows multicultural spew somewhere between Maceo and Pharoah. One of the best sets in the box, for sure.

- Tom Burris

Q&A with NoBusiness's Danas Mikailionis

FJB: NoBusiness has been unearthing and releasing music recorded during the Loft-era in NYC. What interests you in this era / music?

DM: I started listening and collecting the music from the Loft Era in NYC long before starting the label. I was struck by the depth of the music, freedom of thought, explorative ideas and expression. Lofts attracted so many new, young and talented musicians, who had a strong will to share their inner urge and that strongly stimulated other musicians and music lovers and resulted in forming a special atmosphere around Lofts and building musical communities. This must have been a very exciting time for all those involved.

After listening to Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions release and reading Valerie Wilmer's book As Serious As Your Life I understood that there should be plenty of unheard and beautiful performances from that time. Naturally, after starting the label, I began digging into the possibilities of releasing this music. The first true inspiration was my discussion with Jemeel Moondoc when he was playing in Vilnius, Lithuania. He spoke a lot about those times and eventually I decided to come up with the first NoBusiness Jazz Lofts release - Muntu Recordings. That was a significant first step for me working together with Ed Hazell, who wrote liner notes for the book, which became a part of the CD box set. He drew a map of the Lofts and wrote a short history of the Lofts and how everything started. Since then we continued working together on other historical releases. Lofts Era music still remains one of my favourite and I am willing to work further on other unheard performances.

Which other Loft-era recordings / musicians do you recommend listeners check out?

Billy Bang's Survival Ensemble, William Parker's Centering Recordings, Melodic Art-Tet, the music of Peter Kuhn, Arthur Williams' Forgiveness Suite, Ted Daniels' Energy Module and William Hooker's LIGHT. These are all great releases that could be of great interest for those who want to get into the culture of the Jazz Loft Era music. All of them come accompanied with extensive stories written by Ed Hazell, include many interesting photos and original posters.

Sam Rivers has been a focus, you've released a number of CDs of his work already, what is the inspiration behind the new box set?

Sam Rivers Archive Series releases was a lucky continuation of our work on important historical music. Ed Hazell has done a tremendous job getting in contact with Sam Rivers' daughter and working on Sam Rivers' archive. It took time to choose the music for the series and work on the remastering of the sound. It resulted in six volume releases of Sam Rivers music. I am happy that we made it available for jazz listeners and I received a tremendously positive feedback from many people encouraging me to come up with this box set release. It was planned at the beginning, but the reactions I received made me
happy to work on this set of the finest selected pieces of Sam Rivers music from the series and include some previously unreleased tracks. This box set is a very strong document covering Sam Rivers' music from 1971 to 2002 and showing his musical journey through 30 years of his creative activities.

What tips do you have for listeners of the box set? What makes it unique?

First of all it is the music itself. For the vinyl fans it's a great compilation of Sam Rivers music collected under one release and it's going to be the fist and only existing vinyl box set of Sam Rivers' music. I worked a lot on the outer box itself and wanted to make it exceptionally good and long living.

The box set release will also contain a 24 pages booklet with many interesting photos and stories written by Ed Hazell. I hope that those who'll obtain this release will be happy with it.

What's next for the label?

I will continue working on the fine Chap-Chap Series together with my friends from Japan, documenting concerts produced by Takeo Suetomi and releasing other great Japanese and Korean musicians and their cooperation with the musicians from the West. One of the upcoming releases will be a performance of Peter Brotzmann and Sabu Toyozumi duo from 1987. My focus will remain on other historic performances and another release will a document of Barry Altschul / David Izenson / Perry Robinson trio from 1978. I will also continue working on the early European free jazz music. Releases of Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden, Modern Jazz Quintet Karlsruhe and Total Music Association inspired to work further on other not well broadly known groups and musicians. The music sounds as fresh and exciting as it was back then and I want others to join me in enjoying it. 

The Sam Rivers Archive Series can be pre-ordered from the NoBusiness website or can get in contact via



It would be an exaggeration to comment that Sam Rivers is forgotten or neglected. With so much info (and the myth that comes from it) about musics past, still people are discovering his music. But surely he hasn't received the praise he deserved plus that a lot of stuff coming from the 60's-70's free jazz isn't hip right mow.
So, kudos to NoBusiness for making possible this music is heard in good audio quality and affordable prices//

Colin Green said...

Fascinating stuff. What a pity however that none of the Sam Rivers archival series appear to be available as downloads from the NoBusiness Bandcamp site. Presumably they'll be made available when the physical units have sold out.


Kudos to NoBusiness for putting out the music of Sam Rivers in good audio quality and affordable prices.
Rivers' music deserves more than it has received so far//