With all proper respect to Sam Rivers' '70s trio with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, his working band from 1993 to 2006 with bassist Doug Mathews and drummer Anthony Cole is a superior ensemble. NoBusiness Records continues their Sam Rivers Archive Project with their sixth release Caldera. The label has culled music from Rivers' performances from as early as 1971 to this latest live performance, in 2002, captured in New Orleans.
In the '60s Rivers found himself smack dab in the middle of the New Thing movement in jazz. He recorded with the young drummer Tony Williams before getting a call from Miles Davis, then Cecil Taylor and Andrew Hill. His Blue Note recordings, Fuchsia Swing Song (1965) and Contours (1967) are classics. His RivBea loft in New York was a creative hub not only for himself, but many other artists. In 1991 he moved to Florida and, as far as the New York cognoscenti and press were concerned, he had taken up residence on the moon. Enter local musicians Mathews and Cole. Rivers never stopped his music growing, both in large and small ensembles. With this trio, he found the most sympathetic partners. They were musicians, like Rivers, capable of switching to instruments well outside of their area code. The drummer Cole is adept at the piano and the tenor saxophone and Mathews plays both acoustic and electric bass, plus bass clarinet. For his part here, Rivers doubles, er quadruples, on tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, and piano.
The concert in New Orleans opens with a two-punch piano assault duo from Rivers and Cole. The seventeen-minute "Improvisation I" is an exhaustive perambulation with Mathews' acoustic bass keeping time. Spacetime. Onward to a prolonged bowed "Bass Solo," an efficient "Drum Solo," and the two saxophone plus bass meditation "Unity." Rivers' trust in his partners is obvious throughout. He returns to his composition "Beatrice" (now a jazz standard) sounding as fresh on tenor in 2002 as he did in 1964. "Improvisation II" with Rivers on flute is an all out sprint which also supplies a taut funky groove. That energy spills over into "Offering," and Rivers' switches to a soprano saxophone which sounds like a bird soaring over an ocean of sound generated by electric bass and drums. The final "Improvisation III" opens with a post-bop free jazz piano trio that transitions into a saxophone trio. River and company traverse energy systems and the outer stratosphere with an ease only available to the tightest working ensembles.
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