Impulse : 1976
SR, tenor sax, flute; Ted Dunbar, guitar; Dave Holland, bass, cello; Barry Altschul, drums; Warren Smith, drums, vibes, percussion.
The recent Sam Rivers Fest on New York’s WKCR, and the culminating concert featuring a reunion of his legendary 70s trio (with Holland and Altshcul), went a long way, one hopes, toward further elevating this wonderful reedman into the pantheon of greats. So in the spirit of celebrating one’s elders while they still walk amongst us, and can knowingly bask in the well-earned adoration and appreciation of their fans, we bring you a couple of under-known cuts from Rivers’ busy, mid-70s run of recordings. (Many thanks to listener/reader Bart for the rips.)
The Sizzle group has the classic trio at its core, rounded out by guitarist Dunbar and utility man Smith. Where on much of his other 70s recordings Rivers focused on building a cohesive statement, varying texture and tone across long song forms, here it’s all about the groove. Dunbar swivels his way through “Scud” like a latter-day Jimmy Nolen, while Rivers, on tenor, just burns, rarely letting up.
“Dawn” alters the tone if not the pacing, with a masterful turn on flute from Rivers, and able support from Smith on vibes, and Holland on cello (later electric bass). Gary Giddins, writing on Rivers and Sizzle in the Village Voice in 1998, commented that “clearly there are times he wants to be on the one,” and Altschul and Smith deliver the one in steady, syncopated fashion.
If Sizzle, ultimately, is not a major work in Rivers’ mighty oeuvre, it nonetheless reveals Rivers as someone with tremendous ears, wide open not only the waves and streams that course through jazz history, but also the scratch and burn of 70s funk. Probably not the meaning of “Scud” that Rivers implied, but no matter: here he drops the bomb on us.