Saxophonist Sam Rivers certainly assembled a team of hot soloists for this album. However, his compositions are more than just vehicles for improvisation. Rivers's largely angular, even jarring, melodies clearly seek to define a new direction in jazz; they do not fall back on bebop forms or hard-bop funkiness. Each composition contains an abstract "head" and the harmonic underpinning flatly rejects the usual chord progressions found in most standard repertoire. On this 1965 date, Rivers and his band also avoid the blues format.
"Mellifluous Cacophony" (performed twice here) is one such example. On this composition, Rivers begins with an asymmetrical melody that suggests atonality. However, the soloing remains firmly rooted in the jazz lexicon, as pianist Herbie Hancock, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, and Rivers himself rip into these changes with abandon. "Euterpe" is an ethereal ballad replete with a long, free-floating form and stream-of-consciousness solos from the quintet. Rivers's own flute solo is marked by questing lines and exquisite modal excursions. Overall, this is intellectually stimulating music that avoids precise definition. Suffice to say, CONTOURS is forward-looking jazz at its best.