Houston TX, 6 April 2002
is a select cadre of musicians who have attained such lofty status
that an appearance in concert is cause for significant celebration.
Sam Rivers is just such an artist. From the 1960s and throughout the
ensuing decades, Rivers has produced demanding and uncompromising
music despite the pressures from the commercial world. Stories and
recorded documentation of his 1970s loft sessions at Studio Rivbea
in New York are legendary; his recorded work on albums by Cecil Taylor,
Dave Holland, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Bobby Hutcherson, Thurman
Barker, Bill Evans, Arthur Blythe, Don Pullen, Dick Griffin, Barry
Altshcul, and others speaks volumes for his resourcefulness; and his
large body of recorded material as a leader of small groups and big
bands are prized examples of his huge artistry.
Rivers and his new and highly versatile trio of Doug Mathews on
bass and bass clarinet, and Anthony Cole on drums, piano, and tenor
saxophone, spent a week in residence at MECA (Multicultural Education
& Counseling through the Arts) in Houston where he shared insight,
counseled, and performed with aspiring young inner-city students.
It culminated with a public concert, thanks to the efforts of the
Pauline Oliveros Foundation Houston, which was responsible for bringing
this band to town. Although the concert season is just getting underway,
this event most likely will rank as the year's highlight.
opened with a spontaneous improvisation on soprano as he proclaimed
"Never to be repeated again." This set the stage for the
exciting evening to follow. He blew freely while Cole on drums and
Mathews on electric bass extended the fray. From the initial notes,
it was evident that Rivers is conceding nothing to Father Time. At
a mellow 78, he displays the intensity of a musician half his age.
From there, the band moved into a series of noted Rivers' tunes, including
"Ripple", which has flowing, graceful lines and a beautiful
melody to accompany the spirited improvisations the tune encourages.
Switching to tenor, Rivers played with gusto with his celebrated circles
of spiraling sound. His updated rendition of "Beatrice",
the dedication piece to his wife of 55 years, was true enchantment.
On piano, he was a gushing well of productivity, prancing over the
keys with nimbleness. The flute was incorporated into numerous selections,
particularly the funky piece that served as an extended break and
end song. The most evident characteristic of Rivers was his delight
in playing. He frequently injected his voice in whooping response
to the vibrations surrounding him, which of course resulted in a similar
call from the audience.
must get some of his energy from his associates, for these younger
musicians are a spark of life and a commanding multitalented team.
Cole was a mini dynamo on his abbreviated drum kit. With just a snare,
bass drum, and cymbals, he created a whirlwind of energy. Mathews
alternated between electric and acoustic bass and was the vital heartthrob
of the music that joyously danced to the gaiety of life.
What makes this trio so exciting is the flexibility of each member.
Rivers of course is noted for playing three reeds and piano on nearly
all his recordings, but Cole and Mathews fit a similar mold. Cole
joined in on tenor with Rivers and moved over to the piano chair for
an intriguing solo of melodic yet challenging improvisation. Mathews
stretched out on a lengthy and delicate acoustic bass solo and went
to the bass clarinet as an alternate form of low-end rhythm.
of the most exciting sounds came from the reed trio. The interlaced
passages were delicately constructed to reveal the intricacy that
surrounds a Rivers composition. Mathews held down the bottom range
on bass clarinet and Cole the midrange on tenor while Rivers played
either soprano or flute. These interludes kept the program in a continuous
mode of change to the pleasure of the very enthused crowd. The two
sets from this trio sent a vital message denoting passion for the
music and artistry in its execution. The world is blessed to have
musicians such as Rivers as an on-going source of inspiration. May
he continue to thrill for many years to come.