Sam Rivers

Streams

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Since his final Blue Note session in 1967, Sam Rivers' music got freer and freer, as audiences were able to hear when he signed to Impulse at the beginning of the '70s. Streams was the recorded apex of his early-'70s move into full-fledged free jazz, a continuous 50-minute trio improvisation recorded live at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival. The music is pure stream-of-consciousness -- no discernible pre-set themes, just free-flowing ideas and interaction among the musicians (who also include bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Norman Connors). What's truly amazing about the set is that Rivers' streams of consciousness are more like, well, rivers. He draws from a seemingly inexhaustible supply of fresh soloing ideas -- on four different instruments -- and his playing is busy and nearly continuous throughout, stopping only to switch instruments or punctuate his lines with an excited shout. The album's title refers to the way the different sections of Rivers' improvisation connect and flow into one another, but more impressive is the fact that there are so many sections in the first place. Rivers' tenor sax playing opens the album, and it's as potent a blend of the visceral and intellectual as usual. His rhythmically and harmonically adventurous flute work follows, then a section of angular piano somewhat indebted to Cecil Taylor; things wrap up with a high-energy soprano sax dialogue that features some fantastically driving, muscular work by McBee. He and Connors color in between Rivers' stunning overflow of ideas very effectively, pushing the leader wherever possible. It's a shame there aren't more documents of this phase in Rivers' career, though that could be said of pretty much all of his phases. If it's Rivers the free improviser you're looking for, Streams is a tour de force and one of the highlights of his extremely distinguished career.

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