Larry Ochs: tenor and soprano saxophones | Satoko Fujii: piano, synthesizer | Natsuki Tamura: trumpet | Scott Amendola: drum set | Donald Robinson: drum set
Recorded live on November 12th and 13th 2007 by Alberto Spezzamonte at Teatro Fondamente Nuovo (Venice, Italie), except Across From Over recorded on September 13th 2007 by Grawer and Ryan Peterson at KFJC FM (Los Altos, Ca, Etats Unis). Mixing & mastering: Myles Boisen. Liner notes: Alexandre Pierrepont. Photographs : Georg Pillwein, Matthew Campbell. Producteur : Michel Dorbon
Tracklist: 1. Across From Over (19.07) 2. Abstraction Rising (12.33) 3. Stone Shift (For Kurosawa) (17.45) 4. Finn Veers For Venus (10.04)
For me form precedes function.
If I can’t see the big picture, that universe of sound within which a given piece will come to life, it is hard to organize the internal details. The great thing about the Sax & Drumming Core experience is that I have four special forms developed for this band. So I actually get to write pieces similar to other ones I’ve already penned, just like a jazz band-leader who works with “the changes.”! It’s cool, and it really helps to get to the center of the music and probe and evolve. — Larry Ochs, quotation from the liner notes
Larry Ochs, best known for his work
with the long-standing ROVA saxophone quartet, has been working an unusual and satisfying side project for close to a decade. His Drumming Core, founded in 2000, is a trio with two drummers dedicated to exploring American field hollers and Asian chants. The first two CDs were rewarding, if more as an opportunity to hear Ochs as the sole melody instrument than for the East-meets-West concept. But for their third release, Ochs has expanded the band (and made it more truly an Asian-American hybrid) with the addition of pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura.
Stone Shift is, plain and simple, a remarkably exciting record. The concept of the band remains buried (neither a detriment nor, necessarily, an asset), but as a meeting of five powerful players (Scott Amendola and Donald Robinson make up the drum corps) it’s stellar. The compositions seem for the most part to state theme and then orchestrate the ensemble into a carousel of duets and trios. It is dramatic and exultant (and no surprise, then, that the band’s songbook includes dedications to Akira Kurosawa and David Cronenberg).
A primary bit of curiosity about the disc will no doubt be Fujii’s appearance on synthesizer in addition to her usual piano. A strong composer and bandleader in her own right, Fujii has been pushed in unusual directions (not just the synth but, more recently, accordion) in projects led by the mischievous Tamura. Here is her first appearance as a synth player, at least on record, outside of Tamura’s hard-driving compositions and hearing her in a freer setting is surprising. When the band appeared at Roulette on Oct. 13th, she sat quietly as the horns opened the set and then mimicked both at once on the Casio keyboard, bending and shifting pitches like she was wringing out a rag. Fujii, of course, has a strong sense for dynamic interaction and hearing her a bit like a kid with a new toy is one of the many nice sidelights of the record.
But the main light is Ochs’ smart use of this new group. The four long (10 to 20 minute) compositions are endlessly varied, rather amazingly so. What might be most surprising is how, ultimately, it doesn’t feel like a drum record. It is rhythmic of course, polyrhythmic and propulsive, but Ochs doesn’t let the presence of two drum kits dictate the music. The instrumentation may be a little unusual, but it is, ultimately, a hypnotically intelligent small-group jazz record. — Kurt Gottschalk
No doubt Larry Ochs is one of the best modern saxophonists
and creative musicians, possibly best know from the ROVA Quartet, but some his recent work is also stellar, such as “Up From Under”, with his Drumming Core trio. The trio is just him on saxophone accompanied by two excellent drummers, Scott Amendola and Donald Robinson. Next to that he has many projects, often with unusual line-ups and daring musical vision.
For this album, the trio found kindred spirits in the Japanese couple Satoko Fujii on piano and synthesizer, and Natsuki Tamura on trumpet.
The commonality in their approach is their virtuoso mastering of their instruments, combined with an almost obssesive compulsion to innovate.
The third, and possibly most unusual one, is that they have a kind of dramatic, almost cinematic approach that conjures up a certain imagery in the unconscious (at least it does to me).
The long first piece on the album starts quite rhythmic with the trio launching in a powerful drive, but then the whole piece gets transformed, with the synth sounding like organ, being pounded and tortured violently, then evolving into a weird almost middle-eastern tune turning into jungle sounds, then becoming wild, and hypnotic, propulsed forward by a mad beat and the eery screams of the trumpet.
The second piece starts with dissonant piano-playing over which the two horns fall in with a long, meandering unison theme, ending in beautiful soloing by the trumpet over a chaotic backdrop of piano and percussion, like a seagull flying calmly over stormy waves crashing high against dark rocks, at night, but then the piece is expertly deconstructed into short repetitive phrases, in an increasingly halting rhythm. The third piece is even more abstract, as a spontaneous collage of sound interactions, turning into a quite dramatic, intense and almost theatrical musical scenery, indeed fit to accompany a Kurosawa movie, to whom this track is dedicated.
The last piece continues in the same direction of musical paradoxes, leading to a great feeling of built-up tension and occasional relief: it is rhythmic and not, it is lyrical and dissonant, electronic and acoustic, harsh and smooth, powerful and soft. There are moments that you really do not want to hear, and some you want to get back to time and time again, but these two parts need each other to get the impactful effect you get here. Strong stuff! — Stef
Photo by Peter Gannushkin
CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)