Restraint isn't a quality always associated with John Zorn, and on many of his recordings, ideas seemingly pour through him in torrents as they tumble from the bell of his sax. But on Sonic Rivers, Zorn gracefully makes room for his partners on the date, free jazz trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and avant-garde trombonist and electronic composer George Lewis, and it's the layering and interplay between the individual players that make this recording so powerful. While the furious atonal runs that are a frequent part of Zorn's repertoire are here in plentiful supply, these pieces play on dynamics, with silence punctuating the bursts of fury, the longer extended notes from Zorn, the shifting notes from Smith, and the almost conversational textures that come from Lewis' trombone (and from his electronic manipulations on "The Art of Counterpoint" and "Screaming Grass"). Sonic Rivers very much sounds like a blowing session on "North," as the three musicians seemingly race around one another, but "South" is considerably more graceful, as the spaces in the arrangement and the rise and fall of the individual voices give the piece a sound that's at once vital and slightly mournful. The recording and mix are pristine and splendidly preserve the nuances of all three players, as individuals and as their ideas take flight together, and the finale, "The Culture of Gun Violence in the US," is a stunner, full of daring choices and a series of false endings that speak as eloquently as any polemic on the madness of mass shootings in America. Zorn's Tzadik label has released many of Smith's most notable recordings, and his respect for the trumpeter is audible on Sonic Rivers, and with Lewis adding his signature musical perspective to the sessions, this is a compelling meeting of three inspired and restless musical minds.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming