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Sam Rivers / Adam Rudolph / Harris Eisenstadt - Vista

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Artist: Sam Rivers / Adam Rudolph / Harris Eisenstadt

Album: Vista

Label: Meta

Review date: Aug. 9, 2004

The supply of jazz octogenarians may be running dangerously low, but Sam Rivers is still going strong. Along with Von Freeman, Clark Terry and a dwindling cadre of others, the Floridian reedist represents both a vital link to the music’s past as well as a continuing dynamic conduit for its future. Lo these many years, he’s still following his own muse with commercial concerns taking a distant subservient spot behind self-replenishing creative impulses.

This latest outing – recorded just one day prior to Rivers’s 80th birthday – places him in the company of a pair of master percussionists, themselves representative of two separate generations in improvised music. Adam Rudolph’s been an active drumming savant for several decades, eschewing traditional drum kit for a platoon of percussive devices gathered from across the globe. One of his first studio gigs was as sideman with Fred Anderson on the Chicago tenor’s belated debut The Missing Link (Nessa) back in 1979. Since then he’s led dozens of his own dates and contributed to a host of others by the likes of Yusef Lateef, Pharoah Sanders and Don Cherry. Here he’s credited with handling “hand drums and percussion,” a catch-phrase that only hints at the breadth of musical equipment at his disposal. Toronto-native Harris Eisenstadt, now a denizen of Los Angeles, is decades younger than his colleagues, but his comparatively modest age belies a formidable aptitude behind his trap set.

Vista serves both as album title and an erstwhile band name for the three. The word is also reflective of their communal approach toward song-crafting and joint value placed on open-ended, cliché free improvisation. The seven tracks are all shared compositions. Simple one word titles reflect the vivid imagery inherent to the music. Rivers’ horns take a position of prominence mostly because of the melodic thrust attainable through their padded keys and ligatures, but Rudolph and Eisenstadt are far from passive participants. Each man augments and undergirds Rivers robust lines. Neither shies away from assuming the trio’s tiller, tugging it in new directions as the mood strikes.

Pieces like the opening “Susurration,” which finds Rivers’ flint-edged flute slicing through a thicket of brushed snare, bowed cymbals and tumbling palmed percussion, evince this vibrant give and take. The fidelity is so clear that it’s even possible to hear the flautist moistening his lips between fluttering phrases. “Motivity” matches Rivers’ swooping soprano with the sparser, more spacious support of pattering cymbals, palpitating conga and unidentified droning whirrs from Rudolph’s sizeable arsenal. The capacious opening gradually morphs into a cadential tempo with Eisenstadt carving out a martial beat on snare and clattering rims.

As good these tracks are, it’s the ones with Rivers on tenor that carry the most visceral cachet. “Philio” erupts in eight-plus minutes of volcanic detonations, as the saxophonist honks and bulldozes through a syncopated surf of swirling drums struck soundly by hands, fingers, sticks and brushes. Recommending this one to both Rivers aficionados and newcomers alike is a cinch.

By Derek Taylor

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