Sam Rivers’s new trio is not just a trio. The avant-garde tenor legend, now in his late 70s, unites with the rhythm section from his Rivbea All-Star Orchestra — bassist Doug Mathews and drummer Anthony Cole. But what the simple word "trio" doesn’t tell you right off is that each player brings to the table prodigious skills on at least three instruments. These eleven independently released tracks were culled from live performances in New York, where audiences have been blessed with the opportunity to hear the trio hone its rapport and spread its message over the past year or so.
The group’s multi-instrumental abilities allow it to move beyond the expected horn/bass/drums sound, particularly on tracks such as "Unity" and "Smoke," where three horns — Rivers and Cole on tenors and Mathews on bass clarinet — spar and interweave with manic energy. Rivers burns on flute, particularly on the closing "Firewall," and plays piano on the title track, while Cole also takes to the bench on "Nightfall" and "Iris." Unfortunately, there’s a terribly sour note on the piano that is hard to ignore, leading one to believe that these tracks were recorded in the same place, perhaps on the same night.
Most of the pieces are free and highly abstract, although "Solace," "Nightfall," and "Iris" contain distinct, consonant harmony. But whether playing free or in a form and tempo, Rivers and his cohorts soar to consistently grand heights, producing sounds that are often unfathomable, always breathtaking. At times, when apparently no instrument is able to convey what’s coursing through his mind, Rivers will just take to screaming like a banshee, or uttering gibberish in response to the maelstrom of sound around him.
Rivers is playing with the enthusiasm and freshness of someone at least 20 years younger, and that’s made clear by his ability to put Mathews and Cole through their paces. And yet his tenor sound possesses an aged, burnished quality that only many decades of experience can yield.