Musician discographies are like icebergs. Commercially released recordings often only represent a surface-visible and procurable fraction of actual output; a reflection of those comparatively few instances when resources, fortitude, and good fortune aligned to yield salable product. Samuel Carthorne Rivers situation was no different. Despite a career that spanned seven decades in music, his extant catalog doesn’t even equate to an album a year with numerous gaps across the continuum.
Emanation, first in a series of eight projected releases stewarded by the Lithuanian No Business label, seeks to remedy that relative scarcity by cherry-picking from the late Rivers’ personal recording trove, itself a studiously preserved archive that tallies to literally thousands of hours of unreleased music. Rivers adopted the trio format for his freer excursions starting at the cusp of tenure spent in Cecil Taylor’s group between 1969 and 1971. Bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Norman Conners were original members beginning early in that latter year and the band caught the ear of Impulse Records, eventually releasing a full album (Streams) and additional material from live performances in 1973 on the imprint.
Rivers’ reportedly felt the music recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival for first release somewhat clinical in comparison to what the trio was capable of at their best. The concert restored here captures the players at a Jazz Workshop residency in Boston, summer of 1971, that would be difficult to dismiss as such given the amount of focus and energy brought to bear throughout its duration. Split into two sets, the music follows a schematic customary to Rivers in both small group and solo sessions at least as late as his seminal Portrait project for the German FMP label in 1995.
Features for each of his four primary instruments (tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, and piano) unfold across a vibrantly realized seventy-seven minutes with McBee and Conners generating active color and commentary. Rivers leads with a tenor exploration at once extemporaneous and wholly deliberate with bass and then drums aligning to the brisk forward momentum. Numerous in-the-moment recalibrations ensue with Rivers seizing on and discarding melodic material at whim while stalwartly driving the music without overly dominating it.
Given the inventiveness in evidence throughout the tenor passage, the shift to the first of two flute sections subsequent a virtuosic solo statement from McBee feels bittersweet, if only initially, as Rivers almost immediately justifies the switch with more wind-voiced ingenuity. After a brief resetting pause, bass and drums continue about their business from their respective corners, bolstering the leader’s aerial improvisations with the sort of responsive expositions born from deep listening. Equally compelling segments for piano and soprano follow, but the biggest surprise arrives late in the performance when Rivers, again officiating on flute, fractures his expulsions into delirious glossolalia punctuated by a sudden and cautionary, “lookout, lookout you motherfucker!”
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