Sam Rivers, Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Sam Rivers, Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio

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For his most recent album, Purple Violets (Stunt), saxophonist SAM RIVERS is backed by players four and five decades his junior--and bassist Ben Street and Danish drummer Kresten Osgood work hard to keep up with the 81-year-old leader. Rivers doesn't have anything left to prove; he preceded Wayne Shorter in the Miles Davis Quintet, recorded a host of classic inside-out recordings for Blue Note, was a driving force behind the 70s loft-jazz scene, and even played straight man in Dizzy Gillespie's mid-80s group. But he keeps barreling along anyway, displaying a resilience and flow of ideas that would be impressive even in a much younger musician. Purple Violets, a superb set of dynamic free bop, never abandons its elegant swing (bolstered by occasional guest vibist Bryan Carrott), but Rivers has no problem going out on a limb if the context demands it. On the bracing solo outing Portrait (FMP, 1997) Rivers (playing reeds, flute, and piano, sometimes singing) lets the mood range from contemplative to wild, sustaining a clear sense of control all along. For the closing night of this year's Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music, Rivers will give a rare solo performance.

It's fitting that cellist FRED LONBERG-HOLM celebrates the release of his new trio album at this year's fest, since he unveiled the group at the 2000 edition. Conceived as an homage to the great west-coast jazz cellist Fred Katz, that debut set also functioned as a vehicle for Lonberg-Holm's more lyrical side, which is even more evident on the new Other Valentines (Atavistic), made with bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly (replacing Glenn Kotche, who's since joined Wilco). The material here includes one Katz tune, but much of the rest is rock songs by the likes of Pink Floyd ("Arnold Layne"), Cat Power ("Fool"), Wilco ("Jesus, Etc."), and Sweden's Sagor & Swing ("Vals Pa Vingar"). Though there's plenty of rigorous improvisation going on, it never dissipates the melodic and textural warmth of the interpretations; with its almost folkish quality, this music wouldn't sound out of place shuffled in with a Nick Drake album.

Rivers headlines, Robert Barry & Paul Rutherford (see Friday) play third, the Lonberg-Holm trio plays second, and the electroacoustic group Relay Signals opens. Sat 6/18, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499, $15.

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