Undulation is the fifth volume of the NoBusiness label's impressive Sam Rivers Archive Project, following the trio on Emanation and the quintet on Zenith, both issued in 2019, the trio outing Ricochet and the quartet on Braids, both 2020. All volumes comprise previously unreleased live recordings, the first four dating from Boston 1971, Berlin 1977, San Francisco 1978, and Hamburg 1979. Undulations takes us into the '80s, having been recorded at an unknown venue in Florence on May 17th 1981; Rivers is joined by drummer Steve Ellington who first recorded with him in October 1966 for the album A New Conception (Blue Note, 1966) and by guitarist Jerry Byrd and bass guitarist Rael-Wesley Grant.
The album comprises thirteen tracks with a total running time of seventy-one-minutes. However, in reality, the music is continuous from start to finish, without any distinguishable gaps. The track titles describe the contents of the tracks themselves and will probably be most useful to listeners who are seeking out particular parts, Looking for the drum solo? Then play the fourth track. While such cherry-picking may suit some listeners, hearing the entire album from start to finish will prove to be a more rewarding experience.
As a cursory glance at the track listing reveals, the album is full of variety, with all four players having ample time to solo, their solos being integrated into the overall flow of the music, so never sounding bolted-on or routine. Inevitably, Rivers himself is featured extensively on tenor saxophone, flute and piano (but not, as Bill Shoemaker's sleeve notes highlight, on his customary soprano saxophone.) On all his instruments, he gives impassioned performances which showcase his prodigious talents; in amongst his flute section, he even slipped in some vocal interjections.
To date, all volumes of this series have been so impressive that the notion of selecting a "best" one has been laughable. Undulations maintains that run and re- emphasises the quality of them all.
Tenor saxophone section I; Tenor saxophone solo; Tenor saxophone section II; Drum solo; Piano solo; Piano section I;
Piano section II; Guitar solo; Flute section I; Flute solo; Flute section II; Bass solo; Flute section III.