Sam Rivers: Fuchsia Swing Song

In the autumn of 1964 tenor saxophonist Sam Rivers spent two months on tour with the Miles Davis quintet. This was the group that, with the addition of Wayne Shorter, would become known as Davis’ “Second Great Quintet.” Miles found the young tenor man to be too “out there” for his group, influenced as he was by avant-gardists such as Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Archie Shepp.

Yet Rivers successfully mixed these influences with more traditional ones. His expansive tenor sound is reminiscent of blues and R&B players like Arnett Cobb or Albert Ammons, while his melodic and rhythmic conception indicate the influence of Sonny Rollins.

Fuchsia Swing Song was recorded in December of 1964, and it features two-thirds of the Davis rhythms section: bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, both of whom provide a modern, aggressive, yet sumptuously swinging base for Rivers to work off of. Pianist Jaki Byard, who began working with Charles Mingus in 1962, offers not only the chordal framework from which Rivers works, but also distinguishes himself by playing a variety of styles with equal aplomb as well as offering some deft solo work of his own.

Fuchsia Swing Song is Sam Rivers’ debut Blue Note recording, and it is a confident and sharp debut. All the pieces here are Rivers compositions, with the most well-known being “Beatrice,” dedicated to his wife. Other musicians have recorded the piece, but there has never been a better, more sensitive reading than here, and the solo work of Byard and Carter furthers the lyricism of the piece beautifully.

Other standouts include the title track, a 32-bar structure that features the propulsive cross-accents of Tony Williams, helping Rivers build an intense, turbulent swirl of notes that eases back into a rollicking swing formation, as well as “Luminous Monolith,” which employs traditional chord changes but manages to sound modal.

Byard and Rivers are perfect for each other, as both are in complete command of their instruments and are aware of the traditions that other musicians have paved on them, but at the same time can propel those traditional sounds into the future. In addition, both possess loads of technique but never use or display it as an end in itself. Add to this the potent mix of Ron Carter and Tony Williams and you’ve got an album that sounds as modern, complex, beautiful, and hard-hitting as it did in 1964. The reissue of this CD should go a long way towards restoring interest in Sam Rivers, which would be an excellent thing.

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