Founding member of the Rova Sax Quartet, Larry Ochs has worked with many of the greatest musicians in Creative Music— Steve Lacy, Fred Frith, Wadada Leo Smith, Terry Riley, George Lewis, John Zorn, Derek Bailey and countless others. His newest ensemble is an update on the classic New York Contemporary Five and features Larry’s Shepp-tinged tenor sax along with some of the best young players out of New York’s Downtown scene, including Nate Wooley on trumpet. Ochs is particularly excited by both the ensemble sound and the music here, a set of pieces he considers to be among his strongest and most successful blendings of composition and improvisation. Fabulous and soulful, The Fictive Five is a tremendous achievement by this West Coast master of surprise!
"The first thing you might notice when perusing The Fictive Five composition titles is that three of them are dedicated to film-makers; artists outside the music world. I was thinking the other day that that might be indicative of the situation “music” finds itself in these days. Which is to say, very briefly, slightly less respected than it once was, since there was a time when music was most often appreciated for itself. Everyone sat around the radio, I’m told (not that old), digging the new release by Duke Ellington, or the then-famous blues players. But even after television, in my time when we sat around with our stereos, there was still tons of live music, multiple touring venues, and of course mostly concerts where one sat and watched the musicians play, and that was enough. It seems like a lot of that ambience has gone away in the 21st century, at least for now.
Just a couple of decades ago, I spent tons of time listening to recordings by Steve Lacy, who seemed to dedicate every piece he wrote to one great artist or the other, and primarily to musicians. I am currently composing or “creating” a lot of structured-improvisational schemes, including the three long pieces on this CD. (More on that in a minute.) The dedications are to film creators (William Kentridge is - I would say – primarily known as an installation-artist but often creates animated films as part of or all of his installed creations. Wim Wenders you all know for sure; a great humanist among other things; his recent documentaries are all ultra-inspiring. Kelly Reichardt I know less about because she’s been made fewer films, but her sense of time and her use of space are both very powerful parts of why her films resonate for me.) Now usually when the film and music worlds meet, the music is added on after the film is basically completed. But I’m thinking differently here. Number one possibility might be that I’m listening to a piece after recording it and imagining a favorite director that might be moved by it enough to organize images to that piece of music. But I like this next raison d’etre for the dedications much more: I’m inspired to create musical landscapes that the listener when closing her eyes can then imagine her own visual images into, inspired by my music. That’s something everyone can do, and without any budget at all. Turn on the music, sit back, and let the images roll inside your head. Stan Brakhage liked to say that his films were the music; they didn’t need any actual musical accompaniment. (And he was right. I’d like to see a dance choreographer take this attitude and present his choreography without music; the possibilities for audience participation would be much greater.)
So maybe I’ll take the attitude that this music is the film, the story, or the imagery, only everyone gets the opportunity to decide for themselves what the imagery is, what they’re seeing. When listening to music, the fun is in the seeing; there’s no need “to understand it.” If you’re looking to understand music, I think – and I know this is very personal – one is approaching the experience the wrong way. “Be there” with the sounds; actively collaborate. Trust that the composer or the collaborative improvisers are setting up a playground of sound that you can join in on.
As to the process in operation on the compositions on The Fictive Five, I have been saying what follows from almost the start of my life in improvised music —back when RovaÃ¢Â€Â¨ got going in the late ’70s—but now, so many years later, I love theÃ¢Â€Â¨ idea that what I aimed for back then works better than ever now. Namely: I create compositions for improvisers; structures that act not as pre-arranged enclosuresÃ¢Â€Â¨ for musicians to inhabit without spoiling any of the arrangements, but rather as free-form apparatuses that encourage them to take out their best color wands and music machines, playing on those instruments while themselves being ratcheted up to a most intense focus. And the goal is simple: to change the opening question when two musicians meet from “Are you working?” to “What’s exciting you?” I think that the other gifted musicians on this CD—when introduced to the four compositions on the recording—could sense in the very first rehearsal that there was something special within each piece for them to discover. And that’s my other goal: to create pieces that invite musicians in, even as they’re being pushed out and into the wild. Together.
Today’s best improvisers make room in each musical soundscape for all the participants, and their own contributions to any given terrain make the others’ contributions sound that much better. And once confidence in your fellow explorers is established — and The Fictive Five seemed to jell during our very first performance at my Stone residency in 2013—then it’s all about focusing in on our journey together after that. NoÃ¢Â€Â¨ fear of failing if the band has your back. All three extended works Ã¢Â€Â¨involve coded charts, including signs introduced to me by LisleÃ¢Â€Â¨ Ellis during the What We Live era. Some notation;Ã¢Â€Â¨ some visual cues developed with Rova. Ã¢Â€Â¨Enjoy the rides.