Caldera constitutes an impressive final entry in the Lithuanian NoBusiness imprint's Sam Rivers Archive Project. It showcases the legendary multi-instrumentalist's longstanding trio with bassist Doug Matthews and drummer Anthony Cole, which he established two years after his relocation from New York to Florida in 1991 and which remained active until 2006.
During its existence, the outfit made three albums, of which the pick is Firestorm (Rivbea, 1998). The threesome provided arguably one of the most empathetic settings for Rivers' potent expression since his mid-1970s bands with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul. As a bonus, it also offered Rivers an extended palette as each member doubles, Matthews on bass clarinet and Cole on tenor saxophone and piano, an appealing resource for a prolific composer such as Rivers who had over 400 pieces in his large ensemble book.
Both Cole and Matthews enjoy unaccompanied segments, but characteristically in Rivers' universe, they form integral parts of the performance, as exemplified by the way in which the bassist's bowing segues into a spirited conversation between Rivers' soprano wail and Cole's intertwining tenor, before Matthews dons his bass clarinet for a woodwind trio rendition of Rivers' "Unity."
Although by the time of recording in 2002, Rivers was 80 years old and not breaking new ground, this set is notable for several reasons. Unlike the group's other outings, it contains three lengthy improvised sections, out of which compositions eventually emerge, with original tunes like old favorite "Beatrice" and "Offering" spicing the freewheeling flow with variety and focal points.
Furthermore, by happy coincidence Rivers found two pianos on stage in the New Orleans arts center where this concert was taped. He takes full advantage, opening the show in a volatile keyboard duet with Cole, full of tumultuous clusters, sparkling single note runs, and energetic rhythmic motifs, all accompanied by Matthews' careening double bass. As often the case throughout his career, Rivers tempers the fiery pulsation with a shift to an infectious groove, a gambit he revisits during later improvisations featuring his dancing flute and magisterial tenor saxophone.
Even following his death in 2012, Rivers remains a towering figure. Although a renowned free player, his roots in the jazz canon are impeccable, having played or recorded with Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron, Miles Davis and Cecil Taylor among many others. Consequently his music confidently straddles the inside/outside dichotomy, a borderline which Matthews and Cole also navigate with thrilling ease. Caldera proves a fitting finale to a project which has amply reaffirmed Rivers' stature.
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