Sam Rivers Trio | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Sam Rivers Trio


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Of the great jazz saxophonists to emerge in the turbulent 60s, none has been ignored more criminally or perpetually than Sam Rivers. He discovered drummer Tony Williams, preceded Wayne Shorter in the Miles Davis Quintet, recorded a diverse string of edgy albums for Blue Note in the mid-to-late 60s, and became a prime mover in the early 70s loft jazz scene in New York--and that's just the first decade of his career. But rather than basking in glory, Rivers prefers to make things happen, behind the scenes and onstage. He's dedicated a large part of his life to education, spending long stretches of time away from major jazz cities (he's lived in Orlando for years now), and his aversion to the spotlight may have cost him the widespread credit he deserves. Yet Rivers has an expansive, almost holistic view of the jazz tradition and a restless muse that have stoked his mercurial talent well into his 60s. You may have to dig around to find them, but his recent recordings contain some of his finest playing. He's made superb contributions to records by bassist Reggie Workman and guitarist James Blood Ulmer's Music Revelation Ensemble. Portrait (FMP), a newly released solo concert, brilliantly reveals his wide scope on a variety of instruments (tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, and piano); in a fully improvised setting Rivers shifts seamlessly between rhapsodic ballads, fiery postbop, and intense extended technique. And Concept (Rivbea), recorded with bassist Doug Mathews and drummer Anthony Cole (the trio he brings to Chicago), proves that Rivers's ferocity is undiminished. Certain passages recall his free-bop playing of the 60s, but frequently the music burns hotter than anything he's done, marked by his usual thoughtfulness and depth. Rivers hasn't led a group in town for years; you already know the do-not-miss spiel. Friday, 8:30 PM, Unity Temple, 875 Lake, Oak Park; 708-383-8873. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael Haynes.

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