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Sam Rivers and the Rivbea All-Star Orchestra: Inspiration

It’s common practice for venerated jazz artists to take a victory lap late in life; Sam Rivers, however, is running a marathon. Pushing 80, Rivers has more energy and stamina than most men half his age. His current work has a more vibrant edge than 99.9% of the music now glutting the market. Inspiration reveals a true original at an autumnal zenith, an artist for whom resting on his laurels is an alien concept.

Rivers’ avant-icon status obscures the fact that his sensibility is pan-stylistic, and that, more often than not, the dense clusters and jarring voicings of his orchestra works are in the service of setting up tangy funk, Latin, and swing grooves for soloists. In this regard, Inspiration is something of a condensed retrospective. The recently penned, Latin-tinged title track is based on “Tanga” by Dizzy Gillespie, who shaped the young Rivers’ sense of modernism in the mid-’40s, and gave the multi-instrumentalist a reentry into bebop via a stint in the trumpeter’s ’90s quintet. The lyricism of the classic “Beatrice” is a reminder that Rivers’ Blue Note legacy is not exclusively one of relentless intensity; the intriguing aspect of this harmonically sophisticated chart is that is was scored in ’68, when the flames of Fire Music were at their hottest. Rivers’ ’70s envelope-pushing at Studio Rivbea is represented by the knotty, aptly titled “Vines,” which has, at its core, a fairly straight-up jam on a single chord. Still, for all its allures, this is undiluted Rivers.

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