Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core | Stone Shift | RogueArt Jazz

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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)

Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core | Stone Shift | rogueart jazz

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 Sax & Drumming Core | Stone Shift | rogueart jazz

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

Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core | Stone Shift | rogueart jazz

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

Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core | Stone Shift | rogueart jazz

Photo by Peter Gannushkin

 

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One thought on “Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core | Stone Shift | RogueArt Jazz

  1. Fifty years after its inception, the avant-garde still regularly begs the hoary old question “Is it jazz?” Notwithstanding that it has persisted as an active style as long or longer than most of its predecessors, with a small but committed following around the globe while continuing to reinvent itself in different ways wherever the seed germinates, that question just won’t go away. With each passing year the connections to the tradition become clearer, but still not clear enough perhaps.

    Why this somewhat intemperate rant here? Larry Ochs’ augmented Sax & Drumming Core as heard on Stone Shift were the latest avant-garde ensemble to be accused of not playing jazz by an irate punter in Spain. Only this time the police were called to pass judgment. What makes it worse is that Wynton Marsalis was alleged to have offered the accuser his entire recorded output as a reward. If he is tracked down, he deserves every minute.

    Perhaps someone should slip this disc into the package. It comes on like a real foot-tapper with the opener “Across From Over” borne aloft by the tandem drums of Scott Amendola and Donald Robinson, stomping ass from the get-go behind Ochs’ gruff tenor. They’d be rumbled though as it doesn’t last: in fact the piece acts almost as a how-do-you-do to each of the “horns.” And next up with the dual percussion is Natsuki Tamura’s whinnying trumpet, then partner Satoko Fujii’s chameleon synthesizer, before the whole band comes together in a cadenza of roiling intensity.

    This is the third release by Sax & Drumming Core, one of Ochs’ alternative outlets to long-time associates the ROVA saxophone quartet, but the first to include the Tokyo-based pairing. Even though known for their own potent conceptions, Fujii and Tamura integrate seamlessly into the overall sound. A band with special guests this ain’t. That’s true not only when they tackle notated material, but in the splendid interplay commonplace throughout the four lengthy pieces totaling just short of an hour.

    Belying the emphasis in the group’s name, the twin drummers don’t dominate proceedings. Well-separated in stereo channels, both are as sensitive as they are sturdy, allowing ample space on the dramatic title track for Tamura’s breathy murmurs, and piano arpeggios and synth noise. Later on the same piece they crank up the crossfire, driving Ochs’ cart-wheeling sopranino, before trading fierce rolls and crashing cymbal crescendos in conclusion.

    All four pieces are attributed to Ochs. Even where there is no overt composition, as on the episodic “Finn Veers for Venus,” there is clearly organization afoot as the abrupt changes of mood veer from intense fiery exuberance to determinedly restrained. It is that strong sense of structure which unifies the five constituents through rhythm, timbre and tempo, yet also allows them fertile space as individuals. It might be a thought to call the police, the next time music doesn’t deliver on that.

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