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Sam Rivers’ face is like Eric Dolphy’s: long, gaunt, cut, goateed, and mysterious. But in addition to sharing his physical features, Rivers recalls Dolphy’s instrumental prowess (both played flute and bass clarinet as well as tenor sax), and both have carved deep niches in the wooden heart of mainstream jazz. But whereas Dolphy has been posthumously celebrated, Rivers has lived a quiet existence in Orlando, Fla., accepting the praise of his peers but never seeing those compliments translated into popular acclaim. With the release of Rivers’ complete Blue Note sessions, recorded over a period spanning a little more than two years (from November ’64 to March ’67) and five albums (Fuschia Swing Song, Contours, A New Conception, Involution, Dimensions and Extensions), his groundbreaking mid-’60s outside/inside playing can be appreciated in toto. Rivers’ ability to play both free and on the changes—and to make the transitions sound smooth rather than serendipitous—is his finest talent. “Beatrice,” Rivers’ warm tribute to his wife, is a gorgeous ballad. But he comes back on “Dance of the Tripedal” and “Mellifluous Cacophony” to break off some gorgeous squawks and squeaks, still sounding like no one but himself. And when he tackles standards, Rivers is respectful without being a purist. It’s similar to the way current multireed phenom James Carter dissects a classic, analyzes its parts, and resurrects a new creature—the guts are recognizable but its features have mutated. Sam Rivers is the same kind of master surgeon. (Available only through mail-order: Mosaic, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902. (203) 327-7111.)

—Christopher Porter