“Never Was” was recorded in 1996 and released in 1998 on Black Saint records. “What We Live” primarily operate as a Trio yet frequently collaborate with special guest artists as in the excellent “Quintet For A Day” (see March 99 AAJ review). On “Never Was” Larry Ochs, Lisle Ellis and Don Robinson get back to the nitty gritty in stylistic and impressive fashion.
The excellent liner notes by Art Lange correlate the biographical nature of this recording and how it relates to expressiveness, dialogue et al. Life’s experiences are enacted in somewhat of a dynamic nature as the musician’s convey their viewpoints and emotions through their artistic tools. This well coordinated Trio coexist under a seemingly strong constitution as the music speaks for itself.
On “Will Be”, The improvisation and dialogue among the Trio is loquacious and boundless yet these pieces are constructed with strong rhythmic values or structures. Lisle Ellis (b) and Don Robinson (d) are a magnificent team and here as in many other projects they provide a solid yet potently flexible backbone that is a joy to hear and experience. The composition titled “Were” is a fairly laid back neo-Blues piece, as Larry Ochs conversational Tenor Sax is soulful yet penetrating. Tenor saxophonist Larry Och’s makes every note count through articulate and emotive phrasing. Ochs is a poet or perhaps a storyteller, especially on the duet "Mean Season” where Ochs’ introspective, tender and low key Sopranino Sax work speaks in a subversive tone. Ochs’ utilization of tremolo techniques creates an air of subtle complacency as Ochs represents the ever so humble speaker on the podium supported by Ellis’ sympathetic bass maneuvers, which supplies the faint heartbeat. “ Strength In Numbers” is a polyrhythmic tour-de-force as each musician, through dialogue and thematic statements also provide their own distinct rhythmic structures. The results are extraordinary. Ochs’ probing Tenor Sax lines along with slightly altered yet concurrent rhythms emit the feeling that a large ensemble is performing the music in lieu of a Trio. Here, Lisle Ellis’ Bass solo seemingly retorts Ochs’ imaginative statements. Ochs counters towards the finale. “Even After” is solemn and somewhat spiritual as Robinson commissions his cymbals to provide a pastoral setting and the background colors to counterbalance Ochs’ glib Tenor Sax passages which at times sounds mournful or glum. The effect is real, as the human element rises above the music at hand. The results are astonishing.
Other than “What We Live”, these fellows have enjoyed remarkable careers as either sidemen or leaders in other working units. Their individual accomplishments and track records need no further elaboration here. As a group, “What We Live” is a source of amazement and a tribute to Artistic expressionism as the artist can utilize whatever tool seems suitable in order to convey his or her inner self. “Never Was” is modern art in musical form. **** 1/2
Compositions by Larry Ochs, Lisle Ellis and Don Robinson
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.