December 6, 2004
SAM RIVERS/ADAM RUDOLPH/HARRIS EISENSTADT
Three generations of improvisers gather for a meeting of the minds on VISTA proving once again that musically age isnt as important as time signatures.
Saxophonist and flautist Sam Rivers, a sprightly 81, is known for the advanced combo and big band sessions he led in the 1960s and 1970s as well as Studio Rivbea, which gave many avant gardists of that time a place to play in New York. Holding down the traps set is Los Angeles-based drummer Harris Eisenstadt — 52 years his junior — who has played with musicians ranging from saxophonist Yusef Lateef to trumpeter Roy Campbell and who has studied percussion both academically and with drum masters in Gambia.
Contributing his talents on hand drums and percussion is Adam Rudolf, the link between the two. Leader of the massive Organic Orchestra with Lateef, his collaborations have involved other improv masters like Rivers and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. A Chicagoan turned Californian, Rudolf also studied in Ghana about the time Eisenstadt, as a two-year-old in Toronto, was likely first appreciating music.
With the percussionists familiar with a variety of rhythmic patterns from different musical cultures, and Rivers comfortable on soprano and tenor saxophones and flute, theres no chance of this session turning into a variation of an exotica drum demonstration CD. Still, as well as each plays, there are still points here where the interpolation of a chordal instrument would have added more compatible tones to the wall of percussion and reed textures.
Although hes most distinctive when exhibiting his unique muzzled soprano saxophone tone or smearing passages from his tenor, Rivers uses his flute as solo instrument on Plumaseria, the sets longest track at almost 9½ minutes. Sounding somewhat constricted at first, the reedist eventually positions the hollow metal tube to peeping higher notes, hisses and shaky, double-tongued passages. This is around the point where the beat speeds up considerably as the two drummers begin a Latinesque triple time that sounds more like the work of jazz-influenced congueros like Candido or Mongo Santamaria than the Africanized timbres with which they began the tune.
Here and elsewhere Eisenstadts contributions usually involve press rolls, bass drum resonation and other combined kit patterns. Rudolph kicks-in unidentified and extraordinary percussion passages that sound as if they come variously from clattering wooden logs, the three sizes of batà drums or steel drums. Its also probably he who produces the verbalized mouth snaps, bounces and pops that often meld with the flautists whistles and offbeat trills.
On many other tracks the percussion build up is more Olatunji and company than say Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali together. Still, Rivers plays with the same power and jazz-like syncopation as if he was in front of a standard piano, bass and drums rhythm section. As the two skin-ponders curve around his tenormans snorting and wavering pitches on pieces like Philio he calibrates his phrases to singular call-and-response. Growling and smearing double-tongued arpeggios, he plays one phrase than answers himself with slight variations in pitch and tempo.
Then theres the title tune, which serves as a less-than-8½ minute aural essay on Rivers musical evolution. Beginning with the sort of smooth, well-modulated dialogue he would have used when he was leading night club bands in Boston backing the likes of singers Jerry Butler and BB King, hes soon triple tonguing and resonating tones within the horns body tube. With the percussionists worrying the sides and tops of their drums behind him, Rivers output becomes more barbed and abstract. Soon hes honking and producing two or more tones at once by reed biting then sideslipping into irregularly vibrated zones — finally creating spetrofluctuation that could be to-the-colors bugle call.
Rumbles, ruffs and thwacks pour from the drummers hands and wrists. And as sax lines undulate, the piece ends with shattering, swaying cymbal reverberation.
More proof that improvised music is the least ageist — as well as racist and sexist — sound around, VISTA will be welcomed by anyone eager to catch up with Rivers and appreciate the skills of his associates.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Susurration 2. Capacious 3. Motivity 4. Philio 5. Plumaseria 6. Specular 7. Vista
Personnel: Sam Rivers (soprano and tenor saxophones, flute); Adam Rudolph (hand drum and percussion); Harris Eisenstadt (drums)