Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Larry Ochs, Rova Sextet, "The Mirror World"

The downloading world can be a great convenience, but it has its problems. One is that the legit downloading services take no note of the "peculiarities" of serious jazz, improv and classical fanatics like me (and probably you, if you are reading this). That is, they assume that all you really want is a list of song titles, the artist and the album title and that's about it. So when I downloaded Larry Ochs/Rova Sextet's recording The Mirror World (Metalanguage 2007), I got the music in a more or less acceptable grade of MP3 sound, and little else. The music is dedicated to film auteur Stan Brackhage, that it mentioned. Otherwise, I was on my own. Pop and rock listeners generally, so it is assumed, don't care about anything but finding the tunes they want. Well I'm not sure that is always true, either. But at any rate the idea that information will be ignored by the consumer and will distract him or her from the all-important INSTANT PURCHASE is not only insulting to our intelligence, but assumes that people like me, who write about music, are really not useful. (Ahem, I refer to the fast disappearing art of writing liner notes, which I would be happy to do. It would be a great thing to actually bring in some money for peanut butter sandwiches, which are a good staple along with beans when you basically have no money. OK?)

So when I decided after listening several times that The Mirror World was quite interesting and good to review, I had to go back to the net and try to get a little more info. You who have an actual hard copy of this 2-CD set may have the extra info I didn't find on the net, but bear with me because it is the music itself that gets my attention here. Fill in the extra-musical details as you will.

So Larry Ochs and his fellow members of the Rova Saxophone Quartet added two drummer-percussionists and realized Mr. Ochs' extended piece for this recording. That was and is a great idea because. . . 1. Rova sounds even more exciting when a couple of drummers are there bashing away. 2. Ochs' piece is ambitious, extended and very worth the listen. There are worked out passages of a brittle complexity, group improvisations of great strength, lucid, torrid solos in a free-form mode and there's a good bit of the above. Though the piece runs at about 70 minutes and could have easily fitted onto a single CD, the breaking of the piece into two digestible segments keeps the listener focused. It's not such a bad thing.

I wonder what the fate of Ascension would have been had CD technology been around when it was first released. An 80-minute version would be great to hear now, but back then I don't think the intensity and newness of free larger group excursions would have made many people comfortable with so much of it at one sitting.

So beyond my long asides, for which I apologise, I want to express to you my feeling that The Mirror World is one of those recordings that is destined to grow in stature as time passes. It is intense, but really quite beautiful, quite an achievement. Get it and you may feel the same way after a number of plays.


  1. Hi Grego,

    Thanks so much for listening and turning on your readers to this "Mirror World" CD. I have to say that I find your post absolutely fascinating on too many levels to discuss in what I assume should be a short post. But ALL artists agree: the lack of details available at iTunes, eTunes etc. is not only an insult to the listeners, it's an outrage in terms of all the great musicians, cover designers, engineers, mastering engineers etc who are then uncredited, And it's another example of how the music industry has killed itself. When I was a kid, I learned about great musicians who played on recordings by reading their names in the notes!!! (big wow!) , and then finding other albums they played on. Now? No information, no liner notes online, etc. etc.

    I feel like your post is full of SUBJECTS for either an interview or a symposium. But let me say one thing: all the musicians on this CD - and there are 2 drummers on CD1, but on the other CD Rova and the percussionists are joined by some 12 other fantastic musicians... all that info is easily found at www.ochs.cc...go to that site, click on the cover of the CD on the left of the home page, and on the pop-up all that information plus a nice review of the CD are there. Also should be at Rova Sax website.

    Knowledge is power. Really: "they" should close down iTunes until it gets that together. "We" should get a class action suit filed against them. It would take a website designer about 5 minutes to set it up for them.

    -- Larry Ochs

  2. Hello Larry,
    Thanks so much for your incisive and insightful comments. I agree that it's not just a matter of who is playing; ALL the things that people should know about the album are missing. Thanks for filling us in--I was wondering about where all those extra sounds were coming from!! And thank you for such great music over the years.

    . . . and it's not just i tunes that does that; the others too. It's a disgrace.

    Look forward to more music from you and the Rova crew! And please feel free to drop in here with more comments if you feel the urge. Thanks again.

  3. Larry has me thinking some more, and agreeing with him. I must add these thoughts. The whole enterprise is boneheaded in i's very foundation. It goes against the wisdom of marketing, the wisdom of wisdom, the reason people are into music in the first place. It assumes that the entire commoditization lies at the level of the song--and in effect reinforces and recreates in turn the problem that the music industry seeks to remedy. If everything lies at the song level, which is only true for the most superficial of audiences, then artists, engineers, producers, studios, labels, album concepts, musical styles, album art, all of it goes out the window. One hit wonders rule. Audiences become totally fickle and roam like buffalo through the download jungle thicket without reason or taste. Nobody gets the credit they deserve and music becomes anti-marketed, becomes intrinsically one-dimensional and just something that could easily be substituted for the next something--the latest song. How would anybody know what to get by going on a download site? It's a point-of-purchase nitemare and so unsympathatic to what music is as to be really...criminal, if "legal" in the formal sense. Thanks Larry for getting me started. I suppose I should stop for now though.

  4. One quick note and I'll shut up. First, excuse the typo in my comment above. "Unsympathatic," of course, should be "unsympathetic." Second, I was listening to the first CD while writing the review, so I heard only the sextet. I listened to the second volume repeatedly but several weeks ago (somehow I accidentally reversed the two volumes when labeling my CD-Rom burns) and didn't register the extra voices as I sat down to do the review yesterday. Had I sufficient info from the download I would not have made the mistake. . . .Enough. The rest is silence I guess. The larger point is the quality of this music. Listen!