Jazz’s more avant-garde practitioners tend to work like art’s abstract expressionists, splattering notes around with palpable physicality. Octogenarian reedman Sam Rivers has long been an exception to that rule, delineating his improvisation in stark strokes that recall the colorful grids of Piet Mondrian — a painter who drew heavily on jazz for inspiration.
On the first night of a Gotham stint, Rivers teamed with pianist Jason Moran — a frequent foil over the past few years — to fashion a set filled with numbers that found beauty in turbulence (and vice versa). Rivers, perched on the edge of a stool situated at center stage, waxed fast and furious on “Impromptu for You,” eventually holstering his sax for some trancelike off-mike scatting.
There’s an intuitive bond between the two musicians, one that bassist Reggie Workman picked up on rather quickly. His bow work added an extra layer of polish to a lyrical version of “Summit,” which originally appeared on Moran’s fine Blue Note album “Black Stars.”
Rivers moved to flute for an airy midset piece that harked back to his early ’70s work, specifically the more ethereal elements of his “Hues” album. Moran took a more rhythmic role here, while Workman provided the bottom end with subtly shaded percussion.
Perf’s final piece spotlighted Rivers’ neo-algebraic soprano sax work and his continued commitment to what he calls “spontaneous creativity.” It’s a complicated theorem, one that blends the free-wheeling spirit of gospel with an architectural discipline, but when laid bare this entrancingly, explanations are superfluous.