In 1986, the British free improv label Emanem released a complete concert by the Spontaneous Music Ensemble over two LPs. For the CD reissues, each LP was given its own CD with over 20 minutes of extra material added. On Quintessence 1, we first have "Forty Minutes," a long improv performed in February 1974 at the ICA Theatre by an ad hoc quintet version of the ensemble: leader and drummer John Stevens, saxophonists Evan Parker and Trevor Watts, guitarist Derek Bailey, and bassist Kent Carter (heard here on cello). (The same lineup is featured on Quintessence 2 for the second half of this concert.) The 40-minute centerpiece of Quintessence 1 stands high on top of anything available by the SME: The true quintessence of Stevens' vision can be heard as the musicians give the best of themselves, remaining very personal in their playing (just compare Parker and Watts all the way through), while constantly keeping the focus on the group and the music happening here and now. Beautiful. In comparison, the three excerpts from an October 1973 trio session involving Stevens, Watts, and Carter lack the same qualities. "Rambunctious 1" and "Rambunctious 2" are different attempts at performing one of Stevens' loose compositions. Except for the drummer's shouts, it packs little excitement. On "Daa-Oom," he makes African-like vocal sounds echoed by Watts' wailing saxophone; once again interesting, but no match for the main course, a monument in itself.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture