It is June 3, 1971, and the Sam Rivers Trio—which in addition to the multi-instrumentalist leader included Cecil McBee on bass and Norman Connors on drums and percussion—is playing Boston’s Jazz Workshop. The trio, which Rivers formed when he was at or near the end of his 1969-1971 tenure with the Cecil Taylor Unit, had played the Jazz Workshop the previous February; excerpts from a recording of that performance found their way onto Rivers’ 1973 album Hues, which for many of us at the time was our introduction to Rivers’ improvised trio music. A later, fuller performance by the trio, recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July, 1973, was released the same year. But here, on the June, 1971 Boston Jazz Workshop recording, we can hear a complete performance by the group at an early stage of their development. And it was an auspicious start indeed.
The two sets captured on Emanations are valuable not only in their own right—the music, as would be expected, is exhilarating—but for what they show of Rivers’ approach to free improvisation in a small-group setting. Both sets, each of which is presented as a single long track, are steered by Rivers’ playing on a succession of instruments—tenor saxophone, flute and piano for the first set, soprano saxophone, flute and piano and voice for the second set—and take on the structure, more-or-less spontaneously arrived at, of a suite, each segment of which is shaped by Rivers’ choice of instrument as well as by ongoing changes of tempo and dynamics. But the suite-like nature of the sets isn’t just a matter of structure: during each section Rivers spins out tautly melodic passages that give the section a distinctive, thematically coherent profile. The music may unfold as a stream of consciousness, but it’s one that’s focused and never loses sight of its own musical logic. It’s a focused logic that carries over to the rhythm section as well. McBee and Connors support the lead line with fast and slow swing rhythms, Afro-Latin grooves and ostinati, or more fluid, meterless playing at the music’s transition points. In addition, McBee’s long solo during the first set adds a dramatic element of timbral and dynamic contrast to the sound of the full trio.
Emanation is the first of a series of No Business Records’ planned releases of music from Rivers’ vast archive. As with the trio’s June, 1971 performance at the Jazz Workshop, it is also an auspicious start.