Sam Rivers – Crystals

Sam Rivers-Crystals (1974)_ed

A particularly extraordinary contribution this one. even by Rivers standards which really have an altitude of their very own, this is a momentously distinctive hall-mark who’s permanent crater will forever be a feature of the Freejazz/Jazz landscape. More than 30 other musicians donate their abilities over six tracks…so it’s an orchestra scenario. I normally really abhor these experiences in Jazz & am generally of the dogma that if you need a huge passel of musicians to convey power or dynamic your obviously at an extreme deficiency.

However on this occasion & under Rivers cerebral excogitations you end up with an overwhelming ebullition of superbly diverse, outstandingly innovative & derangedly detailed dalliance…let me be emphatic with the degree of originality enacted on this record, there is a swell of techniques/arrangements & methods that I have never heard attempted or repeated outside of this album. taking the entire opus into account, you have an amalgam of predominantly feral freejazz ferocity, avant-garde, pensive, genre hesitant & even briefly Flott, Swing & oh yes turbo Swing, Latin arrangements (a frequent predilection of Rivers) & to a lesser extent Funk & more Jazz orientated fusion (no guitars perform on Crystals & an electric bass is given a single cameo on the second track only). A lot of Rivers compositions & arrangements push the stereotypes to such extremes that they contort into something else entirely, & with so many horns present, syncopating but with independent patterns the final definition becomes even more difficult to adequately explicate. This is seriously’ seriously challenging stuff! But SHIT it’s dope. Forgetting all the floridity & innovation for a second (because it’s easy to warrant merit for these actions alone despite the final reality of the album/composition), the album is an absolute success sonically, & although some sections have a deliberately difficult or purposely pontificate style, the bulk of such an astonishingly avant-garde album remains an elating triumph in the most direct of meanings. If you want to have your senses brayed-beyond-belief by ridiculously dramatic screaming horn multi-dismemberment or sprinting bass turbo-swing with Rivers insanely exuberant fluidic sax exogamy over the top intersected with high class unpredictable Avant-Jazz Fusion this album will riddle you with more holes than you can imagine. It’s accessibility is frequently treacherous & it may well take numerous excursions before access or even understanding is attained <I immediately found niches but it literally took me over a year to fully appreciate it’s many chambers>, but nothing can suppress the brilliance at play.

Crystals also screams an insane plurality & versatility, the contrast between each meticulously laboured track is major & the themes & instrumentation shift significantly. The initiator “Exultation” squanders no time & lobs the listener straight to the depths, overturing with a tremendous eye-of-the-storm blow-out with a multitude of horns fraying the listener alive. It’s a real “let there be no doubt” preface that in a small parenthesis asserts & prepares you for the madness within. The track then emerges & subsides into a jovial mid paced Swing section before changing vehicles again, this time assuming the bizarre, nervous & completely incongruent anastrophic orchestral segments that impose if not interrupt at the strangest moments throughout most of the album. Obscure, equivocating, abnormal incertitude’s, totally out of place! I hated them at first, especially as they obstruct the flow, but repeated expedition to this album over literally years have made me really appreciate this unnecessary abnormality during it’s abrupt episodes. The track then gets wild again, you can tell that these moments are of great delectation & enjoyment, having all these horns together & all, like wild dogs in the pack…it’s manic, like being savaged by piranhas or getting caught in a classic horse-shoe ambush & multi-machine gunned from three directions. Blistering free jazz frenzy, total fucking bliss bra ^ ^ the track transfigures again into more Flot territory although still sedulous & rousing under Rivers zero-bollox command, before twisting the ligatures into yet another malformation & reprisal of the entry orbit…WILD! The next track “Tranquillity” starts slow with a strong slab-as-shit strut of ghetto-funk on double bass & drums with subtle introduction of the Trombone. That’s enough normality for one day, here comes an electric bass & a whole horn section dispensing very unnerving & louring howling…it’s yet again completely dislocated & off balance, the notes/scales are totally heterodox, no doubt a conscious deliberation to induce further invention. The track manages to be/feign a laid back vibe with a tremendous paranoia/impending disaster dread notion (at least that’s my interpretation). Hazardous & nervy, yet languid & relaxed, I think paradox of posture is the intention, the duality of sentiments all in the same mouthful, staying phlegmatic in an immensely dangerous scenario? Another novelty is spawned, this is serious shit & your absolutely in the grip of a master.

Next up is “Postlude”, a brief but dramatic passage that again pulls the massive mood-shift & irregular notations…from passive pedestrian to deadly psychopath in one sentence.

Flipping over we finally reach possibly the albums high-light, “Bursts” & for me unquestionably one of the best Jazz/trax ever recorded. This is the most fast & aggressive track on the album, yet I would also deduce the most accessible & least abstract. Turbo swing, the bass is running, the drums are charging & Rivers just singes over the top mostly solo but with the rest of the horn section interacting at designated intervals. It’s a set of apotheosis getting more & more flamboyant & ecstatic/out-of-hand with each episode, returning each time to the swing with less restraints until it finally explodes into utter avalanche. It’s almost straight Jazz (albeit very fast & with the exceptionally emotive overlay from Rivers) but once the horn section congregates everything shifts to the apex of Off-Road Frenzy, torrential tempest terrific turbulence.

The following two tracks continue with heaving horn monoliths, the concurrent “uncomfortable” & odd note convenes & a much more Latin based rhythm & drum momentum. Bells & jangling percussion also advance the ritual. These trax are deeply experimental but they also have a stubborn precision that prevents them ebbing into the “aimless” arena that will permit “commotion” rather than “activity” or firing off as much ordinance as possible without target or result besides mass expenditure. Rivers always delivers that discipline, & I pretty much feel the man defines the highest degree of skill heaped into the most extreme/aberrant areas, which to me is really what it’s all about. This album also demonstrates his pedigree for pleasing both polarities & the remarkable schism that plays a large part of his definition as a musician… anyone into highly expressive & dynamic Jazz will be sated, & yet anyone into the most user-hostile FreeJazz/Avant-Garde will also find stupendous succour. The guy is completely autochthonous in both zones & creates new dynamics by combining the two let alone the large Latin contribution which festoons a third formula (although it could easily go under the gesture “Jazz”, it really deserves extra emphasis due to it’s ubiquity & distinction here.)

To sum up, this is undoubtedly a classic in every possible facet. It’s a compulsory mecca for anybody serious about Jazz or FreeJazz/Avant-Garde or mad instrumental mentalism at a maximum. It works both in pure mellifluence/dope-as-shitness, as well as insanely inventive/ground-breaking vigour all cast amongst some of the finest & most expressive playing in Jazz history. I can’t recommend it enough & I cant really take anyone’s dedication seriously that has not had at the very least an encounter with this sublime opus. Sacred shit mothafukuz!!!

LABEL: Impulse

REKD: 1974