Recorded in the halcyon days of the loft-jazz scene, Crystals is a somewhat more accessible affair than one would expect. In the experimental big band tradition of Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton and Sun Ra, Sam Rivers' first big band album makes a fine contribution to this often under-sung genre.
The opening cut, "Exultation" lives up to its title. Horn lines weave around each other as River's soprano snakes through them, never flagging in intensity. "Tranquility" follows, with a funky acoustic bass and tuba ostinato leading the ensemble into a mid-tempo groove. "Postlude" is a short interlude that leads into the albums second side, starting with "Bursts," a scorching free-bop feature for River's furious tenor. The march-like collective improvisation "Orb" takes the energy level down just a notch to prepare for the climactic closer, "Earth Song".
Embracing the discordant linear quality of Muhal Abrams writing, albeit less rigid, more swinging and occasionally even funky, Rivers big band compositions are more accessible than Braxton's but further out than anything Mingus had attempted at the time. While Crystals may be the blueprint for his more recent big band albums, it is more than just a historical curiosity. Not for the faint of heart, Crystals is creative orchestral music at it's most challenging and rewarding. Troy Collins
6. Earth Song
Sam Rivers: arranger, conductor, soprano & tenor saxs.
Fred Kelly: soprano, alto & baritone saxs, flute, piccolo
Joe Ferguson: soprano & alto saxs, flute
Roland Alexander: soprano & tenor saxs, flute, African flute
Paul Jeffrey: tenor sax, flute, bassett horn
Sinclair Acey, Ted Daniel, Richard Williams: trumpet, flugelhorn
Charles Majeed Greenlee, Charles Stephens: trombone
Joe Daley: euphonium, tuba
Gregory Maker: bass
Warren Smith: drums
Harold Smith: percussion