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iTunes Review

In 1974 when Sam Rivers cut Crystals, nobody was doing avant-garde jazz with a big band – “big” being somewhat of an understatement as Rivers had a 64-piece band at his disposal. Along with the fact that he composed Crystals from 1959 to 1972, what really makes this album special was the balance of improv and conceptualization braiding together. The opening “Exultation” explodes sounding like the listener has been dropped in the middle of a freeform maelstrom. But when the bass and drums roll in, horns and strings scamper out of the foreground to solo off in jagged, kaleidoscopic fractals before regrouping. “Tranquility” delivers on its title with a more structured foundation of mellowed funk grooves built by bass and tuba. From there, flutes and woodwinds trim the top making way for a slow parade of brass to seep in and sparkle with harmonious incongruity, making for continuous ascent. The aptly named “Bursts” is a collage of short, allocated blurts coming together at once but wherein each player opens a pocket for someone else to solo reveals the raw chemistry.

Customer Reviews

A high point in music.

A 64 piece band with no pianist! Structurally sound and thoughtfully composed, goes from dissonant free-for-alls to swinging grooves to inspired solos and to places you may have never thought about. A beautifully controlled chaos.

Great album, but misconception about personnel:

Inside the original LP jacket is a list of NY area musicians who had played these pieces live in various settings/gigs. This is NOT the personnel listing for the recording and is clearly labelled as such.For example: Anthony Braxton is listed, but does not play on the album and made a bit of a stink about it when the LP was released. The main players are given extensive biographical sketches and there IS some overlap. That said, again this album IS every bit as spectacular as the iTunes reviewer and the previous reviewer has said. I have no issues with their analyses.

Stunningly elegant avant-garde jazz

If anyone says that avant-garde jazz doesnt swing, the track "Tranquility" will prove them wrong. Rivers' compositions and arrangements on this album do what seems impossible; take a 64 member ensemble and create free jazz that swings. You will find yourself nodding your head, tapping your foot, and humming along. Rivers is a musical genius, skirting the lines between free jazz and straight-ahead hard bop. This is probably why he has been under appreciated. Not free enough for the avant-gardists, but not straight enough for the hard boppers. This album has been described as "forward thinking", but Rivers actually is going back to the roots of jazz in many ways. The use of the tuba as a time-keeping instrument in the rhythm section, swing, large ensemble, etc. Genius!

I just recently got turned on to Rivers by Ashley Kahn's book "The Impulse Story" (which I also recommend), and Im glad I found out about him now instead of later in life. Im only 25, which gives me the rest of my life to appreciate Rivers' beautiful works of art. "Crystals" is now one of my favorite albums, with "Dimensions and Extensions" (Blue Note) up there also. $5.99 for phenomenal music, well worth the price.

And on the off chance a Verve/Impulse! record exec sees this: release some affordable CD or LP version of this album so I can get the liner notes! Do the same for "Sizzle" and "Streams"


Born: September 25, 1923 in El Reno, OK

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Few, if any, free jazz saxophonists approached music with the same degree of intellectual rigor as Sam Rivers; just as few have managed to maintain a high level of creativity over a long life. Rivers played with remarkable technical precision and a manifest knowledge of his materials. His sound was hard and extraordinarily well-centered, his articulation sharp, and his command of the tenor saxophone complete. Rivers' playing sometimes had an unremitting seriousness that could be extremely demanding,...
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