Music » Music Stories & Interviews

Sam Rivers reunion show speaks to the late legend's massive impact.



Sam Rivers
Reunion: Live in New York
(Pi Recordings)

It would be easy to let admiration of this album be rooted solely in hometown boosterism or belated mourning. So, let's not do that. Let's talk about why this album – the first Sam Rivers recordings to be released since his death in December 2011 – is essential listening. This incarnation of the Sam Rivers Trio – with Rivers on sax, flute and piano, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul – was born in the groundbreaking "loft jazz" community that Rivers fostered in 1970s New York, a scene that emphasized improvisation coupled with high levels of musicianship. While European free-jazz of the same era seemed resolute in completely rewriting the vocabulary of improvised music, this crew (predominately New Yorkers and Chicagoans with direct lineage to those cities' historical contributions to jazz) were looking for a way to speak a new language using familiar words.

This scene was, in short, Sam Rivers' greatest legacy.

Of the many artists who made their way through Rivers' loft – David Murray, Andrew Cyrille, David Ware, Oliver Lake, Maurice McIntyre – it was this trio that best exemplified its ethos: unfiltered, unbounded musical dialogue as deeply rooted in freedom as it was in skill. Sadly, when the trio was active between 1972 and 1978, it was not very well-documented. This reunion concert, which took place in New York in 2007, neatly rectifies that problem. The 90 minutes of music here (all improvised) vibrate with an intensity, freedom and unspoken connection that recollects the loft scene's '70s glory without explicitly referencing it. The recording quality is unimpeachable, but what is far more interesting is how these players' approaches to music have evolved over three decades without losing their essential magic.

Orlando residents familiar with Sam Rivers were treated to frequent "rehearsal" performances by the Rivbea Orchestra at Will's Pub, and to a person, were uniformly blown away by them. Less frequent, though, were sets by a Rivers-led trio, where Sam played the role of improvisational instigator. And although the Orlando trio sets were done with high-caliber musicians who explored some magical territory, hearing the original three back together – if only for one last time – is a beautiful gift.

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