Larry Ochs: Spiller Alley and The Mirror World

John Sharpe By

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Larry Ochs/ Maya Masaoka/ Peggy Lee
Spiller Alley

Larry Ochs/ Rova Special Sextet/ Orkestrova
The Mirror World (for Stan Brakhage)

Since 1978 saxophonist Larry Ochs' activities have been primarily centered on the Rova Saxophone Quartet, but increasingly, survival in the jazz world demands the pursuit of parallel projects. Consequently Ochs participates in groups as diverse as the all-improv Maybe Monday and his uncategorizable Sax and Drumming Core, as well as the trio found on Spiller Alley. Ochs has stated that all his written music has been concerned with the integration of composition and improvisation using non-traditional forms and/or alternative devices. In these two fine but very different live recordings he reveals how a clear overall intent can be delivered through an almost ghostly compositional framework.

Now in its ninth year the unusual trio with Peggy Lee's cello and Miya Masaoka's koto conjures a kaleidoscopic mélange encompassing free improv, country blues, contemporary chamber music and oriental courtliness, but beholden to none of them. Recorded in 2006 at three European venues, Spiller Alley's two collective improvisations buttress three Ochs pieces, though the distinctions between them are subtle, with Ochs' light structures allowing full freedom of expression within their airy demarcations. Though there are many pleasing passages—one comes in the lengthy title track where plucked koto is pitched against arco cello whooshes, suddenly echoed by Ochs' swooping sopranino—this is in truth a group music which demands to be judged on its own terms.

A deeply felt project for Ochs, evidenced by the attention to detail on the gatefold sleeve and liner notes, The Mirror World draws musical inspiration from the fast cuts, juxtaposition of images and sometimes luminous colors of avant-garde film maker Stan Brakhage's works. Both versions are continuous performances, though tracked for listening convenience, but they could easily pass for different pieces. "Hand," for the 17- strong Orkestrova, blends overlapping instrumental textures and billowing electronics into a haunting canvas, where change can be imperceptible or erupt suddenly. Midway through the ensemble explorations comes an interlude for Bruce Ackley's Bb clarinet and Moe! Staiano's percussion, reprised for a wonderful conclusion where they pierce the enveloping murk of two didgeridoos.

"Wall," for the Rova saxophone quartet abetted by percussionists Gino Robair and William Winant, is all darting horn lines and energetic polyrhythms, marshaled by a mix of cues, notation and game pieces, though with space for brief cameos and duets against the swirling backdrop. Though the sparser instrumentation promotes a more easily absorbed experience, both versions make for rich listening payback.

Tracks and Personnel

Spiller Alley

Tracks: nobody knows; neoNawi; micro-mirror; Spiller Alley; last light.

Personnel: Larry Ochs: tenor, sopranino saxophones; Miya Masaoka: koto; Peggy Lee: cello.

The Mirror World (for Stan Brakhage)

CD1 Hand
Tracks: The Marks; Palm; Fable; That Hunts; Full House; 14 Fingers; Itself now corresponding to sand.

Personnel: Orkestrova: John Schott: electric guitar; Joan Jeanrenaud: cello; Theresa Wong: cello; Lisle Ellis: bass, circuitry; Ben Goldberg: contra alto, Bb clarinets; Toyoji Tomita: trombone, didgeridoo; Jen Baker: trombone, didgeridoo; Darren Johnston: trumpet; David Bithell: trumpet; Steve Adams: bass flute; Jon Raskin: baritone saxophone; Tim Perkis: electronics; Matt Wright: electronics; William Winant: percussion; Gino Robair: percussion; Moe! Staiano: percussion (4 and 7 only); Bruce Ackley: Bb clarinet (4 and 7 only); Larry Ochs: traffic control.

CD2 Wall

Tracks: Hit; Hung; Radar; Sonor; Pulsar; Screen; Reflector; Ruin; Omens; Wall.

Personnel: Rova Special Sextet: Bruce Ackley: soprano, tenor saxophones; Steve Adams: alto saxophone; Larry Ochs: tenor, sopranino saxophones; Jon Raskin: baritone saxophone; William Winant: drums, percussion; Gino Robair: drums, percussion.

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