|Larry Ochs, co-founder in 1977 of the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, is one of America’s most tenacious reedists. With considerable focus and depth, a big, craggy tone on tenor sax, an often sniggly,
penetrating one on sopranino and more imaginative twists than have been widely acknowledged, Ochs won’t let go of the idea that
applying his guts and smarts to his horns’ far reaches results in
transcendent sonic art. These two projects—a studio recording with two drummers and a concert recording of his working trio—demonstrate Ochs’ breadth, raw feeling and simultaneous sensitivity. Both albums are strong, provocative and as far
from easy listening as possible. But they are both very satisfying and suggest strategies that comprise “free” improvisation while moving beyond it.
Ochs explains his method in liners to The Neon Truth, explaining that on “Finn Crosses Mars” he starts with a spontaneously inspired passage—a line or “field”—varies it, phases in a second idea while phasing out the first, and has the drummers phase in and out of
each others’ efforts. He writes that the piece always follows the same plot: “start ‘free’; locking into the phasing process as a trio; a drum duo; a brief final trio and a short closing head.”
What makes the music entrancing, though, is the variety of Ochs’ motives, phraseology and narratives. On “The Neon Truth,” he intimates the ache of klezmer clarinetists using sopranino, without lapsing into idiomatic cliché; on the 14-minute “Red Shift” he turns ghostly high tones into multiphonic quaver. Drummers Don Robinson and Scott Amendola listen closely to the saxist as well as to each other; they modulate their volumes and employ unbound creativity.
Robinson and bassist Lisle Ellis are whole-hearted collaborators on What We Live’s Especially The Traveller Tomorrow, which includes exhaustive 8-, 16-, 17- and 32-minute tracks. Ochs’ lines are by turns inquisitive, calmly informative, emphatic and impassioned; Robinson plays with brushes and uses his bass pedal in patterns; Ellis provides brilliance with his bow. Ochs claims a kinship with a universal blues. There’s little of the standard blues form but plenty of heart and soul as he plumbs the notes between conventional temperament, and his ensembles explore previously uncharted stretches of interactive sound.
—Howard Mandel (4 Stars/ Downbeat)