Sam Rivers: Contours (1965) Blue Note
An unusual Shoot-out : Blue Note Tone Poet Edition (2019) versus Liberty original (1967). Part of the Stay Home And Rediscover Overlooked Greats Series – SHAROGS. Pretty crap acronym really, but great records for an extraordinary time. There are a few mysteries on the way, have your magnifying glass to hand.
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In Greek Mythology, Euterpe was one of the daughters of Zeus (Jupiter) and Mnemosyne (Memory). The Muse of Music is usually pictured playing a flute. Two thousand years and jazz fans, as your muse, you get a chick with a FLUTE. Bummer.
Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Sam Rivers, tenor, soprano sax, flute; Herbie Hancock, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Joe Chambers, drums, recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Friday May 21, 1965; released by Liberty in January 1967.
Stellar front-line under Sam Rivers leadership: Hubbard! Hancock!; Ron Carter and Joe Chambers man the engine room below. This is outstanding for a 1967 release, because it is a 1965 recording, forged in the crucible of post-bop, from some of the best players of the day. And you though it was just a Sam Rivers album?
I’m going to have problems with the correct use of possesive apostrophes. Rivers’ early career was helped by his friendship with drummer Anthony Williams, who introduced him to Miles Davis. In 1964, Rivers served briefly as the replacement for George Coleman in the Davis Quintet, but was quickly stood down after only a couple of weeks to make way for Wayne Shorter. Miles was ruthless. However The Rivers-Williams connection introduced Rivers to Blue Note, where he recorded on Williams’ 1964 debut Blue Note “Lifetime“. A record which coincidentally was the first ever original Blue Note I bought, thirteen years ago. One of those split second decisions that change your life forever. Forget that fumble in the back of a car, you never forget your first Blue Note.
A signing with Blue Note followed, and Contours was Rivers’ third and last recording for the label, after Fuschia Swing Song and New Conception. His small post-bop discography was supplemented by another deferred release, United Artists excellent two-fer, Involution, released in 1975, and re-released with its intended artwork by Capitol in 1985, as Dimensions & Extensions.
Through the 70s, Rivers rode the free jazz wave, progressive cacophony to my ear. I try it from time to time, but it just doesn’t swing except by the neck, and only when the stool is kicked away underneath me. I have written before, “free” is a misnomer, unless you define it as free from melody rhythm and harmony, which tosses out most of the elements that make up music. These free jazz albums can be found on Discogs for under a tenner, so almost but not quite “free jazz”. However, Rivers’ ’60’s work (three apostrophies?) I like his timbre, dynamics, and risk-taking approach to the tenor in solo, a bad mutha. He also switches around between tenor and soprano, and flute, varying dynamics and textures, to good effect, and played with some great people.
Rather than my amateur ramblings, I sought out a more authoritative source on the relationship between tonal jazz, free jazz, and post bop, a musical education digression. I found this explanation helpful – I understood most of the ideas, but it put them in correct order and in better shape.
“By the mid-1960’s the rise of Free Jazz had shaken the very foundations of Jazz. So Mainstream Jazz had to somehow find a way to respond to the avant-garde – and this response was a genre called Post-bop. The Post Bop genre mixes elements of Bebop, Hard-bop, Modal and Free Jazz without necessarily being any one of these style.”
“The way that Post-bop responded to this attack by Free Jazz was with ambiguity – writing songs that were:
- Harmonically ambiguous
- Metrically and Rhythmically ambiguous
- Formally ambiguous
So, in effect, Post Bop sits half way between Free Jazz and Tonal Jazz. If Free Jazz was ‘complete freedom’; Post-bop is ‘controlled freedom’. It breaks some musical rules but retains others, and still maintains much more structure and form than Free Jazz. Post-bop took on some elements and ideas from Free Jazz but retained others from Traditional Jazz.”
Credits: The Jazz Piano Site
Great. So now we are clear what Post Bop is, hopefully you found it helpful, on with the vinyl review…
A post-bop session from 1965, recorded two months after Hancock’s landmark Maiden Voyage. Hancock and Carter were three months into the life of the Second Great Miles Davis Quintet. Hancock is in marvelous discursive mode, conversing with the other instruments, echoing, jabbing, shadow-boxing, occasionally arguing. Hubbard provides the more mainstream sensibility, Freddie is Freddie, but he tilts in the more free direction than usual.
On my selection, Euterpe, Rivers picks up the flute from the muse, partnered by Freddie on muted trumpet, in an ebb and flow piece that has a dream-like spaciousness, ethereal Hancock notes fill the spaces, and the melody and meter is … ambiguous. Got it.
Other tracks have Rivers’ in Coltranish fire and brimstone: Mellifluous Cacophony gives your ears a good workout, and Rivers’ tenor reaches boiling point in the Dance Of The Tripedal, a clever choice of title conjuring up the gait of someone with three feet.
Vinyl: Blue Note Tone Poet (2019)
Vinyl Detective Briefing: a couple of things are a little odd. Glance at the run-out: it is absolutely huge, meaning the mastering lathe has been set to a very fine groove, pitch or whatever it’s called. You rarely see any record cut like this except when they remastered a 10″ for 12″, with short playing time. If there is anyone out there who knows what they are talking about, unlike me, perhaps they would like to explain the significance of packing the grooves in such little space. Seems intuitively not a good thing.
Possibly related, the track Euterpe is very quiet. It required about 30% more gain to achieve normal full histogram during the rip, and turn the volume up two three notches more when playing. It sounds quite subdued unless you crank it up. Other tracks sound more normal, but still improve with a touch more volume. As a result, the rip of Euterpe has a signal to noise ratio which magnifies background surface noise in the quiet opening passage, not entirely silent , though not a problem compared with my 1967 original.
Always the bonus with Tone Poet, like Music Matters, chiarascurro Francis Wolff portraits. Freddie and Herbie look so young to be making music this good.
I sought out the Tone Poet edition of Contours because I was very impressed with two other Tone Poets I had recently acquired, and wanted a better experience of this great music without the accompanying surface noise of my 1967 original.
As they are both stereo, and both “mastered from the original tapes”, it seemed a perfect opportunity to line them up side by side, in a grand shoot-out of the same track, Euterpe. They are both timed almost exactly 11 minutes, and with the WordPress player showing the running time you can A:B any section backwards and forwards, more or less simultaneously. Factor out the surface noise, we are listening for comparative sonic impressions, albeit within the limitation of MP3 through a computer soundcard.
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To hear the Tone Poet and original side by side:
Selection: Euterpe – Blue Note Tone Poet 2019 edition
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Vinyl: BST 84026, VAN GELDER stamps, original unused NY stereo labels
Contours was first issued by Liberty in January 1967, after the usual Christmas novelty season, and in the company of some very strong but earless and fearless Blue Note titles. And there is the trusty trio Three Sounds as well.
Original stereo press Side 2 which starts with Euterpe is a Van Gelder re-cut BNST 84206 B-1. The suffix -1 was Rudy’s way of keeping track of mastering recuts. Where he wasn’t happy with the first cut, he would mastering it again, and designate the second acetate (matrix code/side A/B) -1 .Van Gelder determined that another cut would need to be made of side 2, BNST 84206-B-1. Was there something wrong with the comparative volume of tracks on the original tape, so he needed to recut it?
When someone uses the Van Gelder original tapes today, and full credit to them for doing it, you have to think, the original tapes recorded by Van Gelder were then mastered by Van Gelder for the original release. He made adjustments on the fly to those original tapes during mastering. May be, just may be, the original tapes include original problems which Van Gelder corrected on mastering, but another engineer using the original tapes might not be aware of? Mere speculation…could be mere coincidence, but suspicious cat says “Meow!”
Contours is one of the few titles selected for the Tone Poet series from the main Blue Note catalogue rather than a remastering of titles first published by United Artists.
It claims to be remastered from the original tapes. I have since learned Sam Rivers was one of several hundred musicians whose tapes and masters were allegedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal Studios fire, which saw the loss allegedly of over 100,0000 recordings in the Universal Music Group vaults (Wiki). The number of losses have been hotly disputed by Universal, who turned to safety copies, back-ups, some tapes were on loan elsewhere, and some safe due to being digitised (!!!).
If you have any thoughts about Tone Poets, know anything about mastering lathe variable pitch settings, the works lost in that LA fire (allegedly included the masters of Coltrane’s Impulse recordings), your First Blue Note? or indeed anything in this post, the floor is yours, give me something to read in the morning.
Stay Home, Stay Safe, and most of all, SHAROGS.