Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sam Rivers - Black Africa!

Aldo Sinesio's Horo Records was a remarkable jazz label; based in Rome, they issued 47 single LPs and 21 double records between 1972 and 1979. Horo leaned slightly toward avant-garde jazz, but they issued plenty of straight-ahead music as well, mostly by American artists, but with a few Europeans mixed in. Horo records were characterized by variable pressing quality (with plenty of pops and crackles), poorly glued sleeves that often came apart, and some truly remarkable music.

I have a personal fondness for Horo. Back in the 1970s, some of the best avant-garde jazz was issued on European labels, and it was hard to get your hands on here in the States. But in my college days, I discovered that the University of Georgia library subscribed to Jazz Journal International, a British magazine. Toward the back of an issue I was thumbing through was an advertisement for Horo Records. I excitedly Xeroxed the ad (I still have my copy) and started planning an order. I didn't have much extra money at the time, but if memory serves, I scraped up the cash to buy three albums, bought an international money order at the bank, and sent it off to Italy, hoping that I hadn't just thrown my money away. And in due course a package showed up on my stoop, containing Threads by Steve Lacy (then as now a particular musical hero of mine), Parabola by Gil Evans, and a third album I don't remember (probably one of the Sun Ra doubles or United Patchwork by MEV). I was slightly beside myself for a couple of weeks, spinning them over and over.

Shortly after that, Horo ceased operations - I don't know why, although I would guess that the company just wasn't profitable. Over the years, I found a few Horos in used record stores, and a few more on Ebay, in the early days of that site, when you could still find rarities at bargain prices. But my next big score came about 15 years ago. I had Googled "Horo Records" just to see what I could find, and came across Aldo Sinesio's bare-bones website, on which he was selling his remaining stock of albums. The prices were somewhat higher than those of my Xeroxed advertisement, but I once again scraped up as much money as I could and placed a large order. After I digested that stack of albums and built up my bank account again, I went back to find that website again, but it was gone. About six years ago, there was a new Sinesio website, with hints of a Horo reissue series, but that never happened, and Sinesio died in 2013. All Horo CD reissues (and I have one) seem to be bootlegs - so for the real deal, you have to find what's already out there.

If I have counted correctly, I have 21 of Horo's 68 releases, and I prize them for their excellent music and rarity. (Truth be told, I once had 22, but sold Garrett List's American Images - that's the only Horo I've ever heard that I didn't care for musically.) Looking back at my old advertisement, I get slightly despondent over the fact that I could have bought the entire Horo catalog for what would know be the price of about four or five Horo albums on today's collectors' market. But, of course, I couldn't do it then, so I'll just enjoy the records I have.

I've written a lot about the Horo label, and nothing about this album or Sam Rivers. Rivers (1923-2011) was a truly remarkable saxophonist, flutist, pianist, and composer. As an improviser he was "a master at resolving non-tonal phrases," as I once read. Beginning around 1970, he led a series of trios with bass and drums, or a "tuba trio" with that instrument in place of the bass. His later trios often played his compositions, but during the 1970s and 1980s his trio concerts were often totally improvised - even when the group fell into a groove, it was spontaneous rather than planned. That's the modus operandi of Black Africa!, a double album which preserves a 1976 concert by the tuba trio  at Umbria Jazz in Perugia, Italy. The level of interaction among Rivers (on soprano & tenor saxophone, flute, and piano), Joe Daley (on tuba), and drummer Sidney Smart is remarkable. The main part of the concert is spread over the first three sides, while side four is a long encore. Sam Rivers is at his best here.

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