INTAKT RECORDS – CD-REVIEWS
Larry Ochs - Joan Jeanrenaud - Miya Masaoka

Fly Fly Fly
Music for saxophone, cello and koto
Intakt CD 092 / 2004

A RARE BEAUTY

For his debut recording with former Kronos Quartet cellist Joan Jeanrenaud and koto master Miya Masaoka, Rova Saxophone Quartet's Larry Ochs composed four extended works for improvisation that compel the players to be both quick-thinking and full-feeling. On the album's title track and on "Mystery Street," Ochs set up structures to tell his bandmates how and when -- but not always precisely what -- to play: The ambience (if not often the exact notes) is established in advance. This gives the tunes their distinctive characters while allowing the musicians enough freedom to interact spontaneously. As a result, both tracks cohere with a sophisticated musical logic yet develop lush, emotional cores -- woeful, haunted cello, hallucinatory koto (which at times sounds like an ethereal harp from the Magic Kingdom), and variously soulful or attitudinal sax.

The 23-minute centerpiece, "Heart of the Matter," uses a more complicated system that combines traditional notation and so-called graphic scores -- pictographs that, according to Ochs' liner notes, instruct the players to create "simple" or "complex" musical phrases at calculated points throughout the piece. This dynamic compositional technique adds an extra element of strategic silences, which function almost as a fourth bandmate, off which the other instrumentalists take their cues. The effect is a heady mix of deep breathing and breathlessness, a kind of restive serenity.

The CD's closing track, "It Happened One Night," also employs a variety of guidelines for improvisation that the musicians are instructed to work through at their own pace. Because each instrumentalist can choose to play a certain section for any length of time, some striking contrasts emerge, say, between the horn's pointillistic tones and the strings' intensely layered drones, as the musicians navigate labyrinthine cerebral passages while listening to each other and responding empathetically. In the end, Fly Fly Fly's organic integration of head and heart creates a rare beauty that's as smart as it is poignant.
Sam Prestianni, sfweekly.com, USA, April 21, 2004

 

 

Saxmeister Ochs verbindet seine sehr bewusste Suche nach Klangpolen zwischen Emotion und Improvisation mit Jeanrenauds Cello und Masaokas Kotospiel und gelangt in vier Stücken zu einer filigran gespielten folklore imaginaire. Durch den ebenso bewussten Verzicht auf dramatische Expression wie auf das sklavische Konzept-Hinterherschnüffeln gelingt der Improvisation des Trios eine genuine Struktur aus Kopf und Gefühl, die sich im Zusammenspiel sowohl erneuert als auch erweitert.
Honker, Düsseldorfer Stadtzeitung, 6/04



5 Sterne
Der vielseitige Saxophonist Larry Ochs präsentiert hier mit der ehemaligen Kronos Quartett Cellistin Joan Jenarenaud und der Meisterin an der japanischen Koto, Miya Masaoka, eine wundervolle, in die Tiefe gehende CD. Miya Masaoka hält mit ihrem lyrischen Spiel an der Koto die Musik quasi am Boden der Realität, Joan Jeanrenaud setzt die klassisch angehauchten Akzente und Larry Ochs himself improvisiert über die Themen mit einem meist sehr warmen, eindringlichen Ton. Die Kompositionen sind so angelegt, dass sowohl das ausnotierte Thema als auch die Improvisation nicht zu kurz kommen. Oft endspinnt sich eine kollektive Improvisation, feine Muster werden gewebt, und dann finden sich die Drei wieder beim Thema, spielen es weiter, sind wieder das bestens eingespielte Trio und bringen die 4 Tunes zu einem runden Ende. Ein Amalgam aus unterschiedlichsten Traditionen finden sich hier zu einem herrlichen Klangteppich verwoben wieder. Es ist mehr als eine reine, kollektive Spontanimprovisation über eine Thema, es ist erarbeitet und trotzdem taufrisch, das Verständnis der Musiker füreinander und für die Gedanken des anderen grenzen ans Geniale.
akro, Concerto, Wien, Juni/Juli 04

 

 

In einer nur auf dem ersten Blick ungewöhnlichen Konstellation präsentiert sich LARRY OCHS auf Fly Fly Fly (Intakt 092) mit der ehemaligen Kronos-Quartet-Cellistin JOAN JEANRENAUD und MIYA MASAOKA an der Koto. Ochs selbst verweist zum einen auf die klangliche Affinität zwischen dem von Honsinger, Reijseger, Aebi, Ulrich oder Lonberg-Holm so ganz unterschiedlich im Improkontext eta-blierten Celloklang und dem Tenorsax und dass andererseits gerade in San Francisco, dem Standort des World Music Center, die Ohren für östliche Klänge seit langem sensibilisiert seien. Er hat die Musik komponiert, und zwar mit unterschiedlichen Kombinationen von Notation, Zeitlinien, graphischen Instruktionen und visuellen Zeichen, immer mit dem Können seiner Partnerinnen im Hinterkopf. Es ist weitgehend autonome Kammermusik, bei der Titelkomposition mit nicht mehr Assoziationen an Jazzähnliches, als sie im Saxophonsound unwillkürlich mitschwingen. Masaoka, selbst renommiert als Komponistin, Vorsitzende der San Francisco Gagaku Society und Leaderin des Masaoka Orchestra und mit Ochs bereits vertraut durch das zusammen mit Fred Frith gebildete Trio Maybe Monday (Saturn‘s Finger, 1998), entlockt hier ihrer Koto Harfenarpeggios und vermeidet meist einen ausgeprägt exotischen Touch. Bei ‘Mystery Street‘ spielt Jeanrenaud auf dem Cello einen Walking Bass und der japanische Beigeschmack der Koto evoziert einen Hauch von Little Tokyo oder Chinatown. Die beiden Saiteninstrumente wechseln dann aber zu chromatischer Arco-Klangmalerei, entwerfen schimmernde Paravents, auf denen sie wilde Motive aufflammen lassen. ‘Heart of the Matter‘ verdankt seinen Titel nicht Graham Greene, sondern Rene Magritte. Im 23-min. Enigma des Überwirklichen schlägt das Herz aller Dinge flirrend im Pizzikato. Ochs malt mit dem Sopranino noch zartere Impressionen als mit dem cremigen Schmelz seines Tenors. Dennoch scheint Impressionismus, schnelle Pinselstriche, die eine spezifische Atmosphäre einfangen, nicht das Dominante an diesen Geweben und Texturen, die eher dem, von kalifornischem Licht und japanischer Delikatesse verfeinerten, luxuriösen Schimmer eines Debussy oder Takemitsu ähneln, auch wenn Ochs sich als Verehrer von Xenakis bekennt. Bei ‘It Happened One Night‘ - Gable und Colbert flickern kurz durchs Bild - verdichten Jeanrenaud und Masaoka die feinen Verhäkelungen durch Sampling bzw. Electronics, die Ochs quäkende Figuren mit noisigen Echos und geschabten Schraffuren einkreisen und in die Parade fahren.
Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy 44, September 2004

 

 

 

Cellos and tenor saxophones have similar timbres, which means that increasingly composers are putting together combos that use this musical blend as a starting point for improvisation. Even though both CDs here feature that line up as well as four long compositions each, the results couldn't be more different. That's because New Jersey-based percussionist Kevin Norton plays up the jazz-orientation of his quartet, while Oakland, Calif.-based saxist Larry Ochs of ROVA Quartet fame, injects his cellist into a musical situation that draws on structured and cued improvisations mixed with elements of so-called New and World music.

A former member of the Kronos String Quartet, Joan Jeanrenaud, who is featured on FLY FLY FLY, has expanded her palate from contemporary classical to improv in the company of players with catholic interests like Ochs and guitarist Fred Frith. INTUITIVE STRUCTURES' cellist on the other hand is Tomas Ulrich, who is firmly in the jazz orbit working with saxophonist Ivo Perelman, guitarist Don Minasi and for many years with Norton.

FLY's third participant is kotoist Miya Masaoka, a veteran of through composed and ethnic situations, whose instrument's 21-strings have blended with the reeds of John Butcher as well as Ochs. Meanwhile Norton's band is filled out with other Free Jazzers -- bassist John Lindberg, co-founder of the String Trio of New York, and tenor and soprano saxophonist Louie Belogenis, a longtime associate of seminal jazz figures like drummer Rashied Ali. Notwithstanding this, Norton's prowess on vibraphone, drums and percussion add yet another dimension to his disc.

On its own, the quartet isn't afraid to turn out its version of swing -- consider there are two run-throughs of Norton's "Walking the Dogma". The instrumentation conjures up memories of vibist Red Norvo's drum-less trio on one hand, and with the cello treated as another horn, Ornette Coleman's piano-less quartets on the other.

"Etude for Ricky W." unites these various strands in diverse ways. Soon after the piece begins, for instance, Lindberg's slinky ponticello lines are followed by double tongued musette-like nasal quacks from Belogenis' soprano. Shuffle bowing from Ulrich and Pops Foster-like slap bass from Lindberg opens up a soundfield for Norton, who takes advantage of the gap with wood block thwacks, tubular bell resonation, güiro-like scrapes and tones that could come from Kulingtang gongs. As the two string players alternate between walking bass lines and bouncing string patterns at one another, Belogenis on tenor saxophone, smears, soars and split his notes into harsh shards with intense vibrato and squeaking overtones. Norton exits the tune with a quasi march tempo that then dissolves into smacks on a single cymbal plus the sound of what seems to be a cloth wiping the drum tops.

Polyphony and double counterpoint characterize many of the other compositions, whether they start from a through composed section or develop from group improvisations. On vibes Norton combines Gary Burton-like multi-mallet work with the sort of well-paced reverberating timbres you'd associate with Milt Jackson. Of course his concept is more advanced and abstract than either man. It would have to be, since Belogenis' John Coltrane-influenced attack could bury delicate instruments like the vibes and cello.

During the course of the two "Dogma"s for instance, the reedist's output moves from floating, slurred pitches to bottom feeder honks and from frenzied note pecking to wider, more vibrato-laden lines that recall Trane's modal work mixed with a bagpipe-like drone. Lindberg contributes long-lined portamento bowing that touches on legit technique and rock steady pulses. Ulrich's snaking tones can be positioned with violin-like jettes or swing with convergent arpeggios. On drums Norton rumbles when he has to, or produces a snare and cymbal tap dance, the better to meld with the double stopping bass and cello.

In contrast, FLY's string section is limited to a single person with Jeanrenaud's more formal style a sharp contrast to Ulrich's freer output with Norton. Then again her role on this CD is different as well. Sometimes the tunes depend on her legato sweeps to provide a backdrop upon which the cascading waterfall of koto strings blend -- or at least meet -- harsh, altissimo squeals from Ochs' sopranino.

In other spots, there are contrapuntal harmonic duets between the quivering tones of Ochs' sax and lightly pressured arco cello parts. When this happens, it's Masaoka who provides the comprehensive continuum. The koto isn't just used as an exotic color organ either. On a blusey section of "Mystery Street", as the saxman creates irregular vibrations and double tongued trills, Masaoka counters with chromatic flat-picking that could come from a Neapolitan mandolin. Alternately, Ochs mouthpiece buzzing and jagged, shuffle bowing from Jeanrenaud bring forward an assembly line of single strong snaps and sweeps from the koto.

Electronics, anathema to more orthodox Free Jazzers makes its appearance on the final track here. Still, the sine wave treatments, courtesy of Masaoka, merely diffuse the sound or let the koto's 21 strings resonate with more depth. They don't become an end in themselves. Providing cyclic accents among the koto's glissandos, the plug-in moments are weighted against integers of intermittent sopranino squeaks and flutter tonguing plus percussive suggestions from the cello that appear to go beyond col legno and sul tasto to open handed smacks on the ribs. Central to the session is the appropriately titled more than 23-minute "Heart of the Matter", with its constant changes in mood, tempo, direction and harmonies. Beginning with bravura sopranino obbligatos, as if it was a folk air, the kotoist provides chromatic strumming and the cellist shuffle bowing.

After Ochs' air raid siren nasality is moderated into an Arabic sounding theme, a deluge of variations from the koto polyphonically fill the spaces. Jreanrenaud, meanwhile, slides out a pitch that could come from a muted trumpet, finally creating fulsome double stops upon which Ochs introduces glottal punctuation and Masaoka chromatic flat-picking.

Finally, after ponticello strokes from Jeanrenaud, irregular vibrations and false fingering from Ochs and a set of glissandi from Masaoka, slither back-and-forth for emphasis, the climax arrives. It turns out to be breathy, folkloric smears from the saxist and vague classical arpeggios from the cellist, which link the theme to its beginning. Eastern, Western, notated, cued and improvised musics meet on these two sessions to auspiciously demonstrate how versatile bands that texturally partner saxophone and cellos can be.

Ken Waxman, Jazzweekly, October, 2004, USA

 


Sometimes it's the unusual instrumentation of a record that draws me completely in. "Fly Fly Fly" is one such record. The combination of tenor and sopranino saxes [Larry Ochs], put together with cello [Joan Jeanrenaud] and koto [Miya Masaoka] is one combination that elicits multiple listens. Within the very first minute of the opening piece "Fly Fly Fly", you're not really sure whether this is a jazz, classical or a contemporary record. Which direction is this trio heading in, you ask yourself, as the record moves on? Are they exploring one or more musics within this context? I don't have answers to these questions. I'm only left with audio clues. The first one is simply that all the pieces were composed by saxophonist Larry Ochs. Larry really arrived from a mixed background. While his past is deeply embedded with Rova [and its' various off-shoots such as Rova x 8], it has to be remembered that Rova oftentimes received more recognition and respect from the contemporary field, then from the jazz paradigm itself. Large chunk of the record is the real juxtaposition of Larry's direct but toned down sax blows, with the almost wilting cello - koto combination of Jeanrenaud and Masaoka. I get the feeling that these two are more often than not, interested in the beauty factor of the music at hand. This isn't such as bad thing, as Larry holds this music ceremony firmly grounded. If there's too much beauty, Larry jumps in and fills in with touches and sprinkles of his tenor or sopranino blowing. For the most part, these blows are here reduced to simple whispers. I get the feeling Larry somehow wanted to tone down his playing to accommodate the cello - koto axis. Whatever his reasoning was, it works and works well. I wouldn't for a minute hesitate to recommend "Fly Fly Fly" to anyone from either the jazz, improvised or the contemporary fields. For choice of instrumentation alone, this record gets my highest approval.
Tom Sekowski, Gaz-Eta, Nr. 25/2004, November 04, Poland

 

 

* * * *

Rova::Orkestrova
An Alligator In Your Wallet EWE 0069

Larry Ochs/Joan Jeanrenaud/ Miya Masaoka
Fly Fly Fly INTAKT CD 092

Rova, the Bay Area saxophone quartet, is now on the far side of 25. Its ongoing artistic vitality is partially due to ambitious spin-offs like Orkestrova, and the ability of member Larry Ochs to initiate invigorating projects like the trio with former Kronos Quartet cellist Joan Jeanrenaud and koto innovator Miya Masaoka. The non-profit Rova: Arts is essential for commissioning pieces from composers like Satoko Fujii, and bringing the pianist together with a 14-piece ensemble including trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and an array of West Coast musicians. The resulting music on An Alligator In Your Wallet gives grantsmanship a good name.
Fujii's three compositions summarize her strengths, especially her adeptness at shifting moods. She jump cuts between improvised ensemble blasts and a swinging line on "A Lion In Your Bag," eventually letting the big cat out in the form of a growling Ochs tenor workout with drummer Scott Amendola. The opening of "A Zebra On Your Roof“ has a Julius Hemphill-like ghostliness; after a stining Steve Adams alto solo and his dovetailing exchange with violinist Carla Kihlstedt, the piece ends with anthem-like sweep. As a composer, Adams proves to be a fine complement to the more playful Fujii. Adams is gravely serious on "Survival," an episodic work that veers between quiet edginess and harrowing intensities. Though it's the set's most overtly jazzy piece, the rhythmic feel of "Chuck“ borders on the pugilistic, inspiring soloists like bassist Ken Filiano, Fujii and trombonist Michael Vlatkovich to come out swinging.
In the booklet interview for Fly Fly Fly, Ochs uses rather opaque language to describe his compositional methods. It's a measure of the trio's close rapport that these procedures yield such naturally flowing music. Ochs also avoids gratuitous information overload, even when Jeanrenaud and Masaoka employ samples and electronics on "It Happened One Night." Subsequently, the kernels of the pieces have ample room in which to sprout and flower. There are strong, abstract passages; but there is greater emphasis on a contemplative atmosphere and deliberate melodic development than is usually the case with Ochs' projects.

Bill Shoenmker, Downbeat, USA, March 2005

 

 

I don’t know whether this CD was consciously programmed as a suite – that its four tracks were recorded on three different occasions in 2001 and 2002 suggests it probably wasn’t – but there’s nonetheless a very satisfying arch-like structure to the album. The first three pieces have similar openings: simple, forlorn songs with a strong Asian or Middle Eastern coloration. (Ochs can make both tenor and sopranino saxes sound positively non-Western, and Jeanrenaud’s cello can sound like an erhu; conversely, Miya Masaoka’s koto often suggests harp, the strummed insides of a piano, or even a hurdy-gurdy.) Each piece gets progressively further from its starting point, however. “Fly Fly Fly” keeps scrupulously to the spare beauty of its original theme, while “Mystery Street” circles slowly around a murmuring, melancholy theme before converging on a brisk minor key dance, then becomes increasingly tenuous and dreamlike. “The Heart of the Matter”, the album’s centrepiece, opens with yet another evocative songlike melody, but the musicians now move in much tighter circles, and the piece is far more astringent and quick-moving than the first two, a kind of sonic hopscotch between little motivic clusters. Ochs plays with great simplicity – often just a note or two quivering in the air – but the pivotal musician here is Masaoka, whose extended solo at a crucial moment bends the piece back to its starting point. The last piece, “It Happened One Night”, breaks the general pattern, forgoing melancholy tunefulness in favour of mouselike chitterings and peeps – at least until the miniature explosion right before the end; it’s also the one occasion on the disc where Masaoka and Jeanrenaud use (discreet) electronics.
As with his previous project The Secret Magritte (Black Saint), Ochs draws on the Belgian Surrealist René Magritte for inspiration: “The Heart of the Matter” is named after one of his paintings. The results are an album that sounds both archaic and new – like listening to half-forgotten folksongs, or chamber music burning down to embers, or some sonic equivalent of Magritte’s paintings: spare, elegant and thoroughly uncanny.—
ND, Paris-Transatlantic-Magazin, Global Coverage of New Music, February 2005

 

Anthony Fragos, Difono, Athens, Greece, Summer 2006

 

Marc Medwin portraits Larry Ochs, All About Jazz New York, USA, February 2009

 



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