Sam_rivers-vista_span3
November 2004

Sam Rivers/Adam Rudolph/Harris Eisenstadt
Vista
Meta Records

If life was fair, major record companies would be lining up to sign Sam Rivers and grant agencies would shower him with riches. Ah, but life is what it is, so Rivers will have to settle for being a free-jazz legend-which is fine with me so long as he keeps making records like this. Vista sets Rivers alongside a pair of very fine percussionists, Adam Rudolph and Harris Eisenstadt, in a series of Interstellar Space-type jams.

Rivers' style is as unblinkingly complex as ever-a sonic storm composed not of lyric melody, but rather patterns and textures of infinite variety, delivered with a hurricanelike intensity. "Susurration," the album's opener, features Rivers on flute. The performance tells us what most of us already knew: except for perhaps Eric Dolphy, there's never been a musician who's better transported the grit and power of his saxophone work to the flute. On tunes like "Capacious," his super-fast tenor and soprano phrases are choleric yet endowed with tactfulness and grace. Rivers is the rare free saxophonist who eschews the inchoate biting-the-reed shtick to generate excitement. His way is passionate but articulate, and he emotes in complete musical sentences.

Rudolph and Eisenstadt do a splendid job of setting up Rivers and interacting within the ensemble. Make no mistake. This is hardcore, high-energy improv-and it's typical Rivers. He's not going to talk down to you, but if you're willing to meet him more than halfway you're going to learn a thing or two about the power of free music.

Originally published in November 2004
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