Sam Rivers and Winds
and the Rivbea Orchestra
Rollins College, Orlando, FL • February 19, 2000
This concert showed two faces of the infinitely multifaceted Sam Rivers. This show was comparable to a war between light and dark. The dark side suffered a few casualties near the beginning and the end, but those that stayed through to the very end were rewarded with the knowledge that they had experienced something unique and almost completely without parallel.
If the above analogy holds true, then the first half of the show, Sam Rivers and Winds, would certainly be the dark side. This 12-piece ensemble consisted of 3 baritone saxophones, 3 tenor saxophones, 2 alto saxophones, 3 soprano saxophones, and one bass clarinet. They played one 45 minute piece called “Zodiac,” which was possibly the most dense piece of music I have ever heard performed live. The piece revolved around heavy group improvisation and interplay; often it was challenging to identify exactly where each sound was coming from. The piece opened with about 10 minutes of free improvisation. This introduction most likely had a structure, though I was not privy to it. Some of the musicians doubled on flutes, which gave a nice contrast to the mostly saxophone ensemble. This monolith of sound was evidently too much for the people sitting in front of us. They left just before the main melodic theme was introduced, and the piece evolved structurally. The band was able to move solidly as a unit, and we were treated to some excellent solos throughout the ensemble. This was a set that could have easily failed, but succeeded because of compositional strength and virtuosity of the musicians.
The Rivbea Orchestra set was almost a polar opposite of the previous ensemble. Where the Sam + Winds were subtle, nuanced, and almost academic, the Rivbea Orchestra was energetic, passionate and swinging. The atmosphere changed from that of a college auditorium to that of a gospel revival. There was plenty of toe tapping soul to be witnessed of the Orchestra. They played three previously unreleased (keeping with the theme of the series) pieces called “Image,” “Hurdle,” and “Fireball.” The pieces kept in line with Rivers’ other compositions for the Orchestra; plenty of short, powerful solos that are quickly swept up by the onrushing tide of music. Anthony Cole’s drumming is truly a revelation; he is truly in a class of his own. Doug Matthews laid out some fiery electric bass solos, getting nigh thrashy at times. Missing the Rivbea Orchestra is folly anyway you look at it, and coupled with the Sam Rivers Winds, this was a memorable event.