CD review

Sam Rivers Trio featuring Cecil McBee and Norman Connors – Emanation

Sam Rivers Trio featuring Cecil McBee and Norman Connors – Emanation
(NoBusiness Records NBCD 118. CD review by Brian Marley)

When Sam Rivers signed to Impulse! at the tail end of the 1960s, the tighter, more structured music he’d been making for Blue Note opened up fully to the new possibilities offered by free jazz. Albert Ayler and John Coltrane had, by that time, pushed their music into the unknown, and were exploring what jazz was in the process of becoming rather than what it was understood to be. Emanation, which is listed as Volume 1 of the Sam Rivers Archive Project, is in that exploratory mode.

Rivers always was a very open-minded player. A versatile one, too. His voice is slightly different on each of his instruments – soprano and tenor saxes, flute, piano – and his soprano playing, perhaps his most eloquent voice of all, is given full reign on this recording. During the two very long tracks (31 and 45 minutes) of which Emanation is comprised, he cycles through his instruments, spending sufficient time on each of them until he feels he’s explored every possibilitity. This, it has to be said, is an exhaustive process, and there are one or two less than fully inspired moments. But that’s true of many live recordings, especially ones as risk-taking as this.

The concert was taped in June 1971 at the Jazz Workshop, Boston, and although the recording quality isn’t perfect, it’s still pretty decent. The bass and drums are a little distant, as is the piano (which also sounds only roughly in tune – perhaps due to the Cecil Taylorish pounding it receives), and Rivers strays off-mic occasionally, all of which takes nothing away from the spirit, energy and sheer inventiveness of the trio’s performance.

Cecil McBee (double bass) is an absolute powerhouse throughout, and his long, fleet-fingered solo, which begins in the 19th minute of Emanation Part 1, is simply magisterial. He and drummer Norman Connors aren’t just supportive of Rivers, they’re equal partners, which is why they receive equal billing on the CD. They push and pull the music and spur Rivers on to ever greater heights, including yelps and exclamations when the ecstatic charge becomes too great and a musical instrument isn’t capable of expressing what needs to be said.

Within a couple of years the rougher elements of performance would largely be smoothed out, and with two different trios Rivers would record Trio Live for Impulse!, one of his landmark recordings. Although Emanation isn’t of that calibre, it’s an important document, one that Rivers kept in his personal archive of key performances. Given how good Emanation is, warts and all, it will be interesting to see what else the archive yields up.

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