Sam Rivers - Aurora (Rivbea, 2007)
Composer, saxophonist and flautist Sam Rivers latest CD is with his Riv-Bea Orchestra, a propulsive progressive big band. This disc builds upon the successful big band albums that Rivers released during his brief tenure with the RCA label. Complex themes are stated by the whole ensemble who then make way for the soloists, and then return throughout each performance to color the proceedings. This muscular group is loud and not afraid to take risks. Rivers sounds energized by his compositions and the playing of the group and solos very well throughout primarily on tenor saxophone and flute. "Arcs" has group members trading short solos for dark sounding instruments and group passages that give the music an ominous feel. Rivers breaks through with fleet tenor like sunlight punching through building clouds. "Streamers" bursts forth with a complex fanfare leading into upbeat tenor sax solo. There is an interwoven collective passage then a bright trumpet solo. Very connected and impressive collective improvisation dominates the remainder for the track. "Peaks" slows the pace a little bit to a swinging simmer. "Spots" kicks things back into high gear with the band jumping into a fast groove with more fine complex group performing with a soloist occasionally bubbling up to the surface for a quick spot before being pulled back down into the gleeful scrum. Rivers finally breaks out his lyrical flute for brief passages on "Patches" and "Beads" which have some more interesting writing for lower register instruments as well. "Filaments" glows as brightly as its title with the group and soloists exploring the music at a very fast pace and using a head-spinning variety of colors. This all adds up to a very exciting disc of challenging large ensemble jazz. 2007 has been a great year for progressive big band with disc from Charles Tolliver and William Parker, and this fits right in. Who says big bands are dead?
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