Ambitious, atonal, challenging -- all are accurate descriptions of Dimensions and Extensions, Sam Rivers' fourth album for Blue Note. Rivers remains grounded in hard bop structure, working with a sextet featuring Donald Byrd (trumpet), James Spaulding (alto saxophone, flute), Julian Priester (trombone), Cecil McBee (bass), and Steve Ellington (drums), but he explodes the boundaries of the form with difficult, dissonant compositions. With his unique, mercurial tone and edgy solos, he keeps pushing the sextet in different directions. It's intense, cerebral music, but since it has distinct themes and strong rhythms, the forays into free jazz, dissonant harmonies, and unpredictable tonal textures are actually quite accessible. Rivers simply burns on each track, whether playing tenor, soprano, or flute. Byrd doesn't display the wild imagination of Rivers, yet he keeps the pace with alternately languid and biting solos. Similarly, each of the remaining musicians makes a lasting impression with his individual time in the spotlight. With music as risky at this, it's forgivable that it occasionally meanders (especially on the slower numbers) but, overall, Dimensions and Extensions offers more proof that Sam Rivers was one of the early giants of the avant-garde.
Personnel: Sam Rivers (flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); James Spaulding (flute, alto saxophone); Donald Byrd (trumpet); Julian Priester (trombone); Cecil McBee (bass); Steve Ellington (drums).