The second collaboration between legendary vanguard jazz saxophonist Sam Rivers and pianist Tony Hymas is a kind of mental suite executed lovingly, with such care and literacy, it's impossible (nearly) to believe that the pair haven't been playing together for decades. Winter Garden is named for the Florida city where Rivers lives. This collection of duets revels in the luxuriant steaminess of a Florida winter; when the rest of the country is under wraps, this place resonates with warmth, green ferns and shrubs, and the easy stroll only a warm climate can bring. As for the music, this is a set of medium to leisurely paced ballads that accent Hymas' strident sense of chromatic development and the melodic side of Rivers' playing. There are no overtonal studies in dissonance here, only the glorious ostinato of a seasoned tenor hero at the height of his lyrical improvising powers. There are moments and even long stretches where the harmonic investigations take on the exploratory nature of angularity, where the playing could be considered "out," though the ever present lyricism overrides the edges each and every time (a stunning example of this is on "That Which Might Have Been"). The most stunning ballad here is "Rapture," written by Rivers. Using Paul Desmond's approach to elongated tonality (yes, make no mistake, Paul Desmond) and Ben Webster's rounded phrasing. Rivers creates a series of illusions, the largest of which is that he isn't playing in his own voice. But this is Rivers' voice without a doubt, as the arpeggios rise and slip from underneath Hymas' large, ever-shifting chords that hover between flats and minor augmented sevenths while he teases the saxophonist into the open with a flurry of eighth notes amid the slow tempo. The result is a lush, deftly handled musical proposition in which the harmonics change no less than five times without once sacrificing the lyric in the tune. The older Rivers gets, the more profound and visionary his playing and composing become. That Hymas can walk with one of the kings of the tenor saxophone is a testament to his own worth to the entire world of jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek