Strange Occurrences ~~ Miles in Tokyo w/ Sam Rivers

This recording from June 1964 is a strange one. Miles had thought he had finally settled on his new quintet after discovering Herbie and Tony (after Frank Butler was nixed and Victor Feldman decided to return to LA), but then George Coleman left the band. I’m still not quite sure why George Coleman left the band, although I have heard that he is a strange (and rather cocky) fellow, so if anyone has any insight into this it would be interesting to hear.

What would be even more interesting to hear is who recommended Sam Rivers. Not to say that Sam Rivers isn’t worthy of being recommended, but it just doesn’t seem to be a good match for this band. Sure, it was 1964 and Miles had yet to really break ‘free’, Ornette Coleman was already well established and this was only 6 months or so before A Love Supreme was recorded, but Sam Rivers just seems like an aggressive push when Miles was still playing standards.

Much has been said about how Miles slowly opened up as the band members around him pushed him further and further, but we’re not quite there yet on this recording. George Coleman played very much inside the harmony, a natural progression after Coltrane left, but Rivers abandons it completely. His style is not very reminiscent of Ornette’s, which was much more blues based; I’d say Rivers holds much more in common with Dewey Redman than anyone else, and if there is any good example of this comparison it is this record.

On the slower numbers, such as “My Funny Valentine”, Rivers plays much more within the harmony, but clearly only by ear. When the tempo jumps and the energy climbs, he veers off almost completely. But alas even Herbie, Ron and Tony weren’t ready for this lack of boundaries. There certainly is a lot of excitement and energy when Rivers solos, but most of it is rhythmic rather than harmonic experimentation.

This is the only official release with Rivers on it, and if anyone knows of any bootlegs I’d be very much interested to hear about them. But even as an official release it escapes many people’s catalogs and memories; few people have it or discuss it. I would recommend it if you’re a fan of Miles OR Rivers, but mostly if you’re just interested in hearing the gradual development of Miles classic quintet from standards and changes to originals and freer forms.

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