THE CIRCLE WITH A HOLE IN THE MIDDLE
Rare Vinyl Revisited
by
Bill Shoemaker
Sam Rivers /
The Tuba Trio

Essence — The Heat And Warmth Of Free Jazz

Circle Records
RK 297676/1

Since it was only three years ago that Crystals, Sam Rivers’ epochal 1974 Impulse! big band date, was reissued, it will probably be decades more before the three volumes of Essence make their way onto CD. Circle Records was the baby of Cologne-based producer Rudolf Kreis, who is pictured on the right side of the cover photo, with his index finger apparently in his mouth. Kreis’ approach was definitely hands-on. The series’ sub-title -- “The Heat And Warmth Of Free Jazz” -- had to be his; it’s implausible that Rivers supplied it. More egregiously, Kreis had Rivers (who plays tenor on the first side of the LP, and flute on the second), tuba player Joe Daley and drummer Warren Smith each play a short solo piece to commence the last of three sets Kreis recorded on September 2, 1976, at the original Bim Huis in Amsterdam. Never mind that this was simply not Rivers’ practice. The three solos made for what Kreis thought was a cool introduction. That it also required making the third set the first volume of the series, and the first its last, was not at issue. Kreis obviously believed the producer’s vision was paramount.

Such contrivances did not deter Rivers; his tenor is brimming with idiosyncratic fire, while his flute spools out long strands of melody. The interaction between Rivers, Daley and Smith is markedly different than with Rivers’ other ‘70s trio, with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. Daley tapped a vocal quality that is largely, if not totally unavailable to a bass player. Smith’s background as an orchestra percussionist informs his playing to an appreciable degree, distinguishing him from Altschul, who is primarily a jazz kit player. Once the solos are performed, the trio heats up rapidly. Suddenly, there is what the track descriptions cite as a “dramatic intrusion of a second tenor sax player.” Now referred to by discographers and scholars as Mr. Dramatic Intrusion, the uninvited musician’s playing is markedly below the standards of the trio, triggering an almost immediate effort, particularly by Daley, to crowd him off the bandstand. Mercifully, Mr. D. I. is out of there before he completely wrecks the set.

Bim Huis historian Kevin Whitehead, Rivers scholar Rick Lopez and others have done detective work to discover the true identity of Mr. Dramatic Intrusion, finding no conclusive evidence. There is a spotty case to be made that it is Ronald Snijders. Snijders is a flutist who doubles on soprano, which would explain his relative clumsiness on tenor. He was born in Surinam, which makes sense of Daley’s description of Mr. D. I. as an “African American/European.” And, his name rang a bell with Rivers when mentioned by Lopez. Rivers’ reaction to being presented with it written as “Ronald Schneiders’ is also intriguing: Rivers said the spelling was wrong, that the name had a more distinctively European spelling.

All of these factors make the first volume of Essence one of the oddest items in Rivers’ discography. It’s not his best LP from that fertile period, but it’s the one with the best back story.