The River is composer-arranger Ryan Cohan’s most ambitious and important work to date. It is a suite in 14 movements, inspired by a concert tour in Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and the Congo.
Rhythmically charged tunes like “Call & Response” and “Arrival” convey the energy of teeming street markets. “Kampala Moon” is a sweet but edgy melody incised on the night air by Geof Bradfield’s piercing soprano saxophone.
There are darker pieces. “Storm Rising,” like all Cohan charts, is carefully constructed as a provocative setting for soloists. The concise, fierce eruptions by Bradfield and John Wojciechowski (tenor saxophones) and Tito Carrillo (trumpet) evoke the turmoil and violence of African political dictatorships. “Forsaken” comes from a visit to Rwanda’s genocide museum. It is a wrenching yet objective musical form. Cohan’s left-hand piano cycles hit like body blows. Carrillo breaks free of Cohan, takes out his mute and, on open trumpet, cries out hope for healing.