Local saxophonist and composer Larry Ochs is one the founders of ROVA, the internationally renowned saxophone quartet. (That's right: Four saxophones.) ROVA is an entity where the "lines" between improvisation and composition, between "jazz" and "classical" (i.e., notated music from the Anglo-European tradition), are blurred. While all members contribute material, composers such as minimalist icon Terry Riley and avant-rock guitarist Fred Frith have written specifically for them. The Mirror World is Ochs' baby, a sprawling, organic, and bracing double-CD tribute to underground film legend Stan Brakhage.
Disc one, subtitled "Hand," features Orkestrova, an expanded version of ROVA, supplemented by several top-shelf Bay Area performers: clarinetist Ben Goldberg, guitarist John Schott, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, and percussionist Moe! Staiano. While one might expect a combo with such avant-garde and cutting-edge credits to produced a mighty free-for-all racket, that's not (exactly) the case here. True, "Hand" would likely compel most fans of Kenny G to jam chopsticks into their eardrums, but upon even a casual listen, structure, along with grace, turbulence, and wistfulness, is discernible. Bell-like tones, horns talking in tongues, guitar feedback, and elegiac winds wrap around each other and that part of your brain that responds to abstract imagery (sonic or visual). Musical frames of reference include the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Grateful Dead (its in-concert "space" improvs), Kraut-rockers Can and Amon Düül, NYC's uncategorizable No Neck Blues Band, and composers Christian Wolff and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Disc two is "Wall," performed by ROVA but augmented by drummer/percussionists Gino Robair and William Winant. Making the surreal "Hand" sound like chill-out music, "Wall" is a full-on, confrontational onslaught that doesn't subside till about halfway through. Then, percussion only fades in, growing to storm-level intensity as the saxes gradually reassert themselves. They talk in tongues, cry, and wail, then swing like a big band gone berserk, with hints of melody, ecstatic and brash. Easy stuff this isn't, but neither is it vague, self-indulgent meandering. "Hand" is both cerebral and heart-swelling, somewhat conceptual yet visceral. "Wall" will be sweet music for those weaned on the Dead C, the Flying Luttenbachers, and late-period John Coltrane. Mirror World makes for invigorating uneasy listening — it'll clean out your pipes. (Metalanguage)
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