Less than five months since his Jubilant 80th birthday bash at the Jazz Bakery, as the full moon glared down at manic traffic, Sam Rivers returned with his kaleidoscopic Trio to further blur the lines between magic and art. The empathic musicians rolled tunes, dialogues, and ideas around with the playful enthusiasm of kittens diving after the same ball. Rivers led the charge, resplendent in black leather pants and vest, a lavender shirt and colorful tie. What started as a sparse Friday night crowd quickly filled in with tardy attendees.
The first to take the stage, Doug Matthews began with a fluttering drummer’s hand on his bass strings. After moving to deep hard plucked melodies, Anthony Cole sauntered down the aisle to the stage and his small drum kit which he unexpectedly whipped into a storm. Matthews easily embraced his pace and soon Rivers emerged from the dressing room and gave an impish bow before diving into the maelstrom with tenor sax invention, a hard blowing flood that became a blue funk jam that had audience heads bobbing. Next Cole launched a radical excursion on piano, Cecil Taylor-like in the sheer volume of notes pouring out of his hands. After his dramatic solo intro, Rivers and Matthews entered, Rivers on soprano. Shifting into a gentler mode, the trio played their version of virtuoso lyrical romanticism. Matthews authored an easy swing, while Rivers sped and careened like an air show veteran.
The multi instrumentalists changed again, this time transforming into a wind trio, with Cole on tenor sax, Matthews on bass clarinet, and Rivers holding on to the soprano. After vivid, adventurous exploration, they found themselves in an arranged jazz riff, landing like the World Saxophone Quartet. Next, Rivers took on solo piano, sketching a thoughtful ballad within vigorous variations that settled into a Caribbean groove with the arrival of the rhythm section. Cole introduced the next number with a drum solo that displayed the same intensity as his earlier turn on piano. Rivers and Matthews hopped aboard the runaway train, Rivers flying on flute repeatedly reverted to a playful theme. After further spirited flight, the band slid into a soul jazz funk with an earthy solo by Matthews, who then switched to six string electric bass.
After a short break, they returned to solo piano with Rivers doing the honors. Thinking with both hands, he steered the band from easy rolling to deeper drama, at times sounding like variations on “Motherless Child.” The piece brightened with the rhythm section snapping in for a straight ahead romp, and Matthews setting the pace. Doug took a different route opening the following piece with delicately bowed overtones. But in no time, he found a driving riff that ignited Rivers and Cole on soprano and tenor respectively. With Matthews laying the foundation, Cole and Rivers flew free. Matthews moved to bass clarinet and the winds kicked it around.
Cole reclaimed the piano bench with a vibrant explosion that went from solo thunder to an inviting setting for Rivers’ tenor. Cole combed out the density with sweeping runs supporting Rivers, who played emotionally rich variations with Matthews bowing. Back on drums, Cole kicked it into high for Rivers’ rollicking variations, with Matthews streaming on bass. They once more settled into a funky groove with Matthews all over his six string bass and Cole keeping it simple. Rivers and Matthews flowed together. Rivers sang his whooping vocals over Matthews’ heavy metal fuzztone, then resumed the flute to take it out.
Rivers’ multifaceted diamond trio continue to do justice to the master, matching him note for note in imagination and joy.