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Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul: Reunion: Live in New York

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It wouldn’t have been fair to expect Sam Rivers, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul to recapture their old magic when they reunited in 2007 for the special Columbia University concert documented on this two-disc set. They hadn’t performed together in more than 25 years. But talk about getting back on the bicycle: It’s difficult to imagine a more luminous, naturally flowing, enjoyable performance.

Reunion comprises two long, uninterrupted, fully improvised sets. The music unfolds in orderly fashion, with Rivers moving from tenor saxophone to piano to flute to soprano sax in set one and following a different sequence, flute first, in set two. With his short, tersely melodic phrases, he makes each instrument a reflection of the previous one-except when, halfway through the first set, his freeform piano solo suddenly breaks out in a lilting Caribbean melody. Holland and Altschul, both in supremely relaxed form, propel Rivers in alternately earthy and airy fashion and pour out captivating solos. The music is free of overriding compositional concerns. When it’s time to stop, it stops, without ceremony.

As brilliant as Holland and Altschul are, this is Sam’s show-the concert capped a marathon tribute to him on Columbia’s WKCR. At 83, Rivers rises to the occasion with a sustained power that would be remarkable coming from an artist half his age. Considering how few albums this trio recorded during its time together (the most celebrated of them, Conference of the Birds, credited to the Dave Holland Quartet, featured Anthony Braxton), Reunion is an unexpected gift-sadly, a parting one. Rivers died last year, following the release of another wonderful valedictory set, Mosaic’s Rivbea Orchestra trilogy. We’re lucky to have both collections.

Originally Published