|One Final Note Review Sam Rivers looks well weathered on the cover of his latest record: frail and older than his 70-plus years. His face is lined with history. Considering the depth and abundance of those lines, the length of that history is obvious. A quick stroll through his discography and the lines prove to be fact. Rivers has been around. He played with Coltrane and Miles Davis and helped forge the sound of modern jazz. This ain’t a Zelig thing. Rivers made that history; he built it. More the pity that he gets so little recognition—and is so far from the limelight he deserves.
The man needs a stamp with his face on it. The sounds he made and makes have that historical weight. It was there from the beginning. Listen to his earliest Blue Note recordings and it’s there, that respect for the past and a yearning for something in the future that’s only starting to become. He always kept one foot in the blues and the other in boundless inner space. I first heard him on a cruddy bootleg with Miles Davis, temporarily filling in for Wayne Shorter. Bless Miles for putting him in, but to these ears he was so many steps ahead of where Miles was that it made the others sound like museum curiosities.
When this disc arrived for review, I didn’t know what to expect. So many musicians do not age gracefully, especially those who deal in the sort of passion that is Rivers’ gig. Those aforementioned lines and obvious frailty made me even more weary. How could a body so old say the things I wanted Rivers to say? The disc in my machine answered those questions fast. Despite a little softening around the edges and a slight hesitancy, his bluesy tone is there. The feeling, the depth of expression still seems limitless. Better yet, that great talent for thinking, curving a solo into areas that surprise yet still make some cosmic sense, is also present. Rivers has managed to take that history and put it in sound.
Despite my Rivers worship, this is firmly a group record. Rivers’ fellow musicians on this date have a third of his history. It does not matter. What boils between them is now in the best way. Each speaks and creates, making it a whole greater than the parts. The other players are Ben Street (bass), Kresten Osgood (drums) and, on several of the tunes, Bryan Carrott (vibes). Osgood wrote a few of the tunes solo and appears to be the central songwriter. Osgood is good, very good. Rivers has one song to his credit and co-writing credit on a few. An Ellington cover (“The Mooche”) gets a spirited reading as well.
The disc is a mix of trio (mostly a trio of Osgood, Rivers, and Street), quartet, and one duo piece. Rivers works tenor, soprano, and flute. It’s the tenor that gets the most workout, rightfully so. Rivers makes the thing speak. It’s a language of notes, a flowing conversation that spills from his horn. On flute and soprano, the limitations inherent in both instruments (that’s a bias, I know) slow that conversation a bit. Rivers still has his say. Osgood and Street make a wonderful rhythm section. They boil and flow underneath, on top and in some fast changing middle throughout the set.
The pieces where Carrott’s vibes appear are the most satisfying to these ears. He adds a level of texture that a trio by nature lacks. I think the rest, especially Rivers, are inspired by his presence. They swing and sing together like some single cell orchestra. On the duo with Carrott and Rivers, it’s mighty exquisite—the vibes ring and Rivers dances over the tones.
Overall, this just seems like a classic. Easily one of the best jazz records in a long time to caress these ears. This is the first in a two-disc project and that sounds like Christmas. Sam Rivers is alive and you, of all people, should be glad.