Tongues Untied

Sam Rivers
Black Africa! Perugia
Horo : 1977

SR, flute, soprano sax, vocals; Joe Daley, tuba and euphonium; Sidney Smart, drums and percussion.

This double album is not to be confused with its sister effort Black Africa! Villalago, a single album that’s currently available as an import from Amazon. Recorded live at Umbria Jazz in July 1976, Perugia finds Rivers at both his most focused and expansive, his talent in fullest flower as he switches between flute, sax, and piano,building up impressive blocks of sound and seductive grooves over an eccentrically  stripped-down rhythm section.

The Black Africa! material follows on the heels of Rivers run of five releases for Impulse and builds upon that exceptional material. It can also be seen as an extension of the superb series of duets Rivers recorded with Dave Holland earlier that year, which included sculpted long-form improvisations and showcased his facility on the flute, piano, and soprano sax. Black Africa adds yet another element to his musical arsenal: vocals.

Part 3 opens with some stirring flute work, quickly moving from a breathy intro into funky modulations over a solid groove. The rhythm section replaces bass with tuba – a move similar to Arthur Blythe at this time and one which evokes the New Orleans brass band tradition. Note the hiccups that Joe Daley lays into the tune all while staying in the pocket. We’re generally not the biggest fans of the flute, but this performance is one of the glorious exceptions.

Then there’s the vocal interjections, which are hardly genteel. It’s difficult to tell whether Rivers is calling down the spirits, invoking field hollers, or yelling at the cops. Disorienting and unexpected, his vocals up the emotional ante on the flute section and set the stage for the coda with the dueling saxophone and euphonium.  These 16-minutes speed by before you realize it, another testament to this great performance.

What’re some of your favorite unexpected jazz vocal performances?

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