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An AAJ Interview with Larry Ochs

By Published: February 28, 2009
AAJ: The webpage for Maybe Monday quotes Piet Schaap as follows: "the trio enables these strong and instantly recognizable voices to reinvent themselves, finding quite other solutions in each others' company to those they might arrive at in other contexts." In other interviews you've mentioned free improvisation as being the "laboratory for discovery." Earlier in this interview you state that "Improvising is about learning as we go." What is it that you have learned from working with Mr. Frith and Ms. Masaoka that you could not have learned from anyone else? How have these discoveries been carried forward into your current work in "other contexts"—Are these discoveries carried forward consciously?

LO: Fred taught me that the most important thing about making it as a group—something we spent a lot of time plotting out—is that the group must come up with a great name for the band. When I asked him if we should come up with the name now or later, he said: "Not now or later. But Maybe Monday."

Miya taught me that in some groups I can sit out the whole set and the music might sound even better that way.

Now for some indirect answers: What makes the art of improvisation exciting, and what makes the "possibilities" unending is that every practitioner has his/her own take on the process, and every player has his/her own specific sound. I've never spoken to other musicians about this particularly, but I think everyone worth listening to realizes at some point that he/she has "a sound," a characteristic expressiveness, and also a way of approaching making music...If they weren't looking for that sound intentionally, they still eventually recognize it just from being around it all the time. Once the sound is heard and accepted, then it's a matter of honing that sound forevermore. The basic sound will always be there, but the honing of the sound and the many ways of phrasing, which is a big part of one's sound—we work on that forever. And the challenge is: how do I get that to work in Rova, in What We Live, in Maybe Monday, in Invisible? What can I use of it in one context that I really can't in another? What does playing in Maybe Monday free me up to do that I can't do with What We Live, even though they are both trios? What does playing John Lindberg's music free me up to do? So—I don't want to duck the specific questions exactly—but I'd say that the general answer is a lot easier to speak to because, in an odd reversal, I can be more specific about the general answer than I would be if I answered specifically about what I learn playing with Fred or with Miya. And I think the general answer is something other people can imagine more easily. But to be honest, I'm still at the beginning stages of improvising with that trio. Our first concert was in 1997, but because of some busy schedules, etc., we've only found time to perform together six to eight times; thus the process is just beginning (while at the same time being extremely satisfying even now.) But certainly playing along side Fred or Miya, I get a much more intimate idea of how they think as improvisers in the moment of creation—much more intimate than I think one would get just as a listener offstage is what I mean. And I take in all the information, their sound-choices, marvel at some of it, steal other parts of it, agree with other parts (I already do) and reject others, usually because the specific sounds or method of response isn't relevant to my own instrument or my voice... (Am I making any sense at all here? If not, ask more questions...)

AAJ: Could you please tell us about the upcoming What We Live CD?

LO: Okay: WHAT WE LIVE is essentially an improvising trio of myself on saxophones, Lisle Ellis on bass, and Donald Robinson on drums. The music I think is very distinctive—the group has its own group-sound (which is what I mean by "distinctive")—but, as it's also improvised, it allows for the addition of guest artists without rehearsal. What We Live has two CDs out as a trio (on DIW and Black Saint), another (great) CD as an augmented quintet with Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
and Wadada Leo Smith called Quintet for a Day (New World). Before we recorded as a quintet, the trio invited each of the trumpeters individually to perform with the group as a quartet. The CD being released in early February, called Trumpets, documents the live concerts. Half the CD is two long tracks with Wadada recorded in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at Outpost Productions in March 1998. Three tracks with Dave D come from a date in Vancouver, B.C. in, I think, November 1997, but it might have been '96. We've played several times with Dave as a quartet (and toured as a quartet with Wadada in Europe). We enjoy adding guests and offer it to most concert presenters. And I think we?ll be playing at The Knitting Factory in NYC on February 7, 2000, with several added guests during a week-long tour back East. (I live in Berkeley, CA). This means that the most recent available trio recording is from June 1996 (even though the CD of that recording—Never Was—only was released in 1999). The group music has really evolved since then, and we hope to get a live trio-tape recorded on our April 2000 tour in Europe.

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