Sam Rivers 16 & 30 Piece Orchestras
Rollins College, Orlando, FL • November 20, 1999
Quick, where’s the capital of Florida? Answer: wherever Sam Rivers is at the moment. Rivers is considered by many to be the hub of creative music in Florida, and with good reason. Rivers has played with pillars of creative music from Miles Davis to Cecil Taylor. The Civic Minded Five have arranged to have the venerable Mr. Rivers play an indefinite amount of shows at Rollins college to “to showcase at least portions of the breadth of original compositions from Mr. Rivers.” This show consisted of two parts, the first was his 16 piece Rivbea Orchestra and the second a group recently dubbed as Orchestral Explorations.
What really struck me about this concert was the straightforwardness of the majority of the compositions. Where I expected free group interplay, I saw rousing, swinging numbers. After looking hard for a seat (the show was sold out) Rivers introduced us to the first number, titled “Menage.” The piece was full of lively group interplay with minimal soloing by my members of the Orchestra. After this first piece, bassist Doug Matthews switched to an electric bass, which gave an indication of the sprit of the next few pieces: energy. The vibe passed from soloist to soloist, none of whom had time to elaborate too far before being swept up by the ensemble. Toes were tapping, heads were bobbing, and smiles permeated the room. These last three pieces were called “Impulse,” “[Another 5 Minutes of a Composition I Played in New York],” and “Quasar.” “Quasar” was the funkiest of them all, rockin’ the house till intermission.
The second set was Orchestral Explorations. This group adds to the Rivbea Orchestra two French horns, a second tuba, a fourth trombone, two clarinets, two bassoons, two oboes, and four flutes (who were, unfortunately overpowered by the might of the rest of the instruments). This set was decidedly more abstract. “Incantation” started things off similarly to the prior set. The key word again here is energy. Next was the highlight of the show for me. Rivers introduced it as part of a longer composition called “Watercolors.” If the remaining parts are similar in depth and beauty to this one, my hat is fully off to Mr. Rivers for creating an epic jazz odyssey. “Watercolor” was what I expected the entire show to be like, decidedly more “out.” “Watercolors,” true to it’s name, featured blurring melodies, sound that disappeared while being played on one side of the Orchestra and reappeared in a different section, hardly recognizable. This piece showed the multifaceted compositional ability of Rivers, no one save Other Dimensions in Music has been able to rock me and take my breath away in the same performance. The show ended with “Panorama,” which was just like it sounded, a view of the vast landscape of music known as jazz.
In closing, this was an amazing show. With Sam Rivers leading, how could it not be?