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Interviews

An AAJ Interview with Larry Ochs

By Published: February 28, 2009
AAJ: What did you learn from working with Glenn Spearman?

LO: This is easier to speak about than the question above about Fred and Miya, one: because it went on for 6 years (not only with The Double Trio, but also in the context of our duo concerts and many, many duo rehearsals, and in performing in and rehearsing for Figure 8 and for Ascension, which Rova performed and recorded with Glenn for Black Saint in 95 and 96) and two: because it is history now.

Spearman was a true believer in the power and the passion of free jazz in the classic sense of that term. He wrote compositions that, on the face of the writing, seemed to me on first introduction to them in 1991 to be rather simplistic. I was looking forward to the energy of the music and to hooking up the two tenors, but I had no idea—nor did Chris Brown, because we've talked about it since—that there was such depth and complexity to the thematic compositions, that these very basic lines and harmonies opened up wide vistas of musical possibility that, in the end, seemed limitless, and never became boring or seemed anything but wonderful to play on and to be inspired by. So I think the main thing I learned playing with Glenn was that complexity does not in and of itself signify anything at all. Or maybe a better way to put it is that what seems elemental can germinate into the most complex and deeply felt areas of exploration. Certainly, this was re-emphasized for me when we performed Ascension as well, and it didn't get by me that Ascension was one of the earliest pieces of the so-called ?free jazz" genre. A true predecessor to Glenn's own writing and approach to making music. My favorite CD of the Double Trio is still The Fields from Black Saint. But for what I'm talking about here, you could get the Tzadik CD; dig the written material and then realize that those few cells are the basis for a very moving 45 minute piece. It's very cool.

AAJ: The webpage for Invisible states that "the group works with verbally denoted structures and musical frameworks. So all the forms are invisible and the music laid on the forms is improvised." How specific or unspecific are these verbal denotations? How much preparation is involved with these verbal denotations? Are they pre-conceived, spontaneous, negotiated, other? (my intent for these question is to determine why it is important that these forms are not written down) As follow up, are there any plans for a release by Invisible?

LO: It's not "important" that the forms are not written down. It's just a fact (...and it's subject to change as the group evolves...) The group operates with verbal instructions, and some pre-conceived forms or ways of relating that need to be rehearsed to be truly understood. If you've ever tried to play improvised music using a pre-conceived form such as chord changes in jazz, then you know that you need to practice the form in order to be comfortable with it; to get loose and forget it. It's hard to make music if you have to look at the page to follow the changes. The more familiar the changes, the more possible it is for a musician to do something beautiful or exciting "over" them. The ultimate goal is to hear them without thinking so that you can play "music." The same with my verbal instructions. The ultimate goal of these games, etc. is to push the players; to make them look at what they are doing in a fresh way so as to free up "possibility."

It's possible to do a very short rehearsal on these ideas and be out performing, working within the concept, in short order. But the challenge is to do something "more" with them. The challenge is to take your improvisation chops and make music with the other members of the group while working within the structure or limitations set up by the pre-conceived form, but then stretching the form yourself or responding in the moment to other people's interpretation of the form.

AAJ: Who are your musical (or artistic) heroes? Why?

LO: A lot of my influences in this music used to be heroes, but heroes are usually people you don't know at all. Once I become acquainted with someone and know them to some degree as a human being, the aura that might once have been there is usually gone. That doesn't mean I don't love them, but that's a different story. So leaving aside all the living musicians, I'd still point to artists: Orson Welles, Jean-Pierre Melville, Stan Brakhage, Monk (pre-Thelonious Monk Institute), Hendrix, Janis Joplin, many 20th century painters, and just for the hell of it: Jesse Jackson.

AAJ: What musicians that you have never worked with before would you most like to work with?

LO: I can only answer this after saying that I've been fortunate to get a chance to play with so many amazing players; I wish there was time and opportunity to play AGAIN with most of them... I really don't have a burning desire to work with the following, but it might be a lot of fun (and in some cases, I'd want to work with them without getting involved in the head-trips that history has reported them laying on their band-members): The Baobob Orchestra, Bembaya Jazz International, Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
, James Brown, Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
in the electric period (which I'm kind of checking out now as part of the Yo Miles Project: next gig on March 4 at Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco); Morton Feldman, Tony Williams; Merce Cunningham (probably with Rova, but I'd let him call the shot); Albert Ayler, and Hendrix... although we'd have to come up with a new form ...together.) I'd like to work with vocalists. That's one thing I've never done that I think would be great: Marta Sebestyen, Sainkho, Diamanda. But it's up to me to think of a reason to ask them to do it, and I haven't found the time yet I guess.


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