Sam Rivers and the Rivbea Orchestra
Plaza Theatre Orlando, FL September 12, 2007
by S D Green
For a town that wasn’t exactly a hotbed of post-bop jazz in its heyday, having one of the few, true, remaining jazz innovators of that era in our midst is quite the feather in Orlando’s cap. Getting yet another monthly helping of Sam Rivers is divine.
A lesser known contemporary and one time saxman with Miles Davis, Sam Rivers will go down in the Jazz Hall of Fame (Rivers was recently inducted) as a pioneer of New York’s “loft jazz” scene of the 1970s. A formidable multi-instrumentalist who has played with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Quincy Jones, Rivers has been blessing a small group of Orlandonians with his explosive Sam Rivers Trio and swinging Rivbea Orchestra since he planted roots here in the 1980s. However, Rivers’ music has gone largely unheard by the public since Will’s Pub closed this time last year. While the Orchestra’s regular monthly rehearsals at Will’s provided an opportunity to see a living legend in his element, the smoky and cramped backspace always seemed inappropriate for a talent of Rivers’ magnitude.
Once Orlando’s only two-screen movie house, the Plaza Theatre has dodged Orlando’s developers for 40 years to become Sam Rivers’ new regular home. A few changes of ownership and a facelift have helped create a promising new spot for live music. After seeing Rivers perform, Plaza Theatre’s general manager, Russell Dayvault, suggested these Orlando icons pair up. Wednesday was the first of a monthly series that gives the public a listen to the Orchestra as they prepare material to record a new collection of albums. The sessions are being recorded and Dayvault says they will begin podcasting soon. The atmosphere is classy but casual, a welcome change to Orlando’s dive bar stand-bys. Seats in the auditorium are a welcome relief from the neck strain of standing for a show, yet there’s enough room up by the stage for dancing – though nobody did this night.
Not to say the music wasn’t on point. This Orchestra of local talents is well versed on Rivers’ music, which is informed by his hard/post-bop roots, but lays in plenty of funk and dissonace to keep it modern. But Sun Ra this is not. For the truly free sound, you’ll have to catch Rivers’ trio. That’s also where you’ll hear Rivers’ lusty and imaginative tenor saxophone. Here, Rivers mostly employs his flute (another instrument on which he is proficient) as a baton. However, his masterful songcraft and kinetic energy almost make up for it. The consummate bandleader, Rivers moves like a man half his age (he’s 83). His presence alone seems to inspire each soloist to dig deeper into their right brains for inventive runs. With a mixture of young and old faces, the Orchestra’s impact on Orlando’s music scene will be felt for years to come.
Whether these pseudo “happenings” will be recognized alongside Rivers’ now iconic loft days is too close to call right now. Any opportunity to hear an 83 year old jazz master still pushing the boundaries is a privilege that Central Floridians should not take for granted. The Plaza Theatre has scored a major coup, and the mighty Sam Rivers finally has a home in Orlando befitting his brilliance.