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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Larry Ochs - The Fictive Five (Tzadik, 2015) *****

By Stef

I couldn't agree more with Larry Ochs' statement that "if you're looking to understand music, one is approaching it the wrong way", because it is the experience that counts, the total impact of the sound on your own biochemistry, including such bodily reactions as emotion, spiritual delight or goose bumps.

On this phenomenal album, the saxophonist assembled a New York band consisting of Ken Filiano and Pascal Niggenkemper on bass, Nate Wooley on trumpet and Harris Eisenstadt on drums, at the occasion of Ochs' curatorship at The Stone in New York, and these musicians, under Ochs' leadership create that unique experience that escapes rational disection and analysis.

The approach taken here is to create musical imagery, scenic moments that are partly composed, and mostly improvised, as if you can see the music in your mind's eye, and these are mostly abstract landscapes with changing and shifting horizons and colors, with a strong horizontal feeling of flux as the unpredictable sounds move the listener forward on this journey.

The album consists of four tracks, three of which are dedicated to visual artists - Wim Wenders, William Kentridge, Kelly Reichardt - in the same tradition as Steve Lacy, and it are the movies or visual installations by these artists that act as inspiration for the music, even if it is not made to accompany these movies.

One of the most striking features of the sound are the two basses, which lay a great sonic foundation for the music, not rhythmically, but in terms of the overall color of the pieces, acting in concert, or alternately, challenging each other or reinforcing the sound. Yet the entire band is stellar, five musicians who live in their most natural habitat of free flowing sounds, joining the short themes that pop up once in a while, then take off again on different paths but in the same direction.

It's the way I like music, beautifully free, sensitive and deep.

10 comments:

Fergus Freeman said...

Barthes said that the only way to experience a work of art (in his example I believe it was painting) was to "look away or close your eyes". This seems to fit with the paradox of "understanding" or controlling art that Ochs I'd grappling with, along with the visual art theme too. I love Ochs so I will check this album out. Thanks for the recommendation.

Colin Green said...

I like the way Picasso put it:

"Everyone wants to understand painting. Why don't they try to understand the song of the birds? Why do they love a night, a flower, everything which surrounds man, without attempting to understand them? Whereas where painting is concerned, they want to understand."

Colin Green said...

As always, there is a contrary argument, which runs as follows. The sounds and images of the natural world are given, not created. Music and painting are produced, arranged, collected, organised and developed, and bear the imprint of the human will and patterns of intention. Therefore, it makes sense to ask questions of the latter inapplicable to the former. And if there was nothing to be "understood" what's the point of reviewing albums? We've all had the experience of listening to an an album, unsure of what's going on, and then for it to become clear - for the pieces to fall into place. That seems to me a form of understanding, even though there may be no "meaning" in the literal sense. One finds the same kind of thing in poetry.

By the way, these are just some random musings on my part - I'm still recovering from eating too much yesterday.

Stef said...

Thanks for the reactions - I think the truth probably lies somewhere in between : no need to understand the music as such (experience is far more important), yet there are elements of context and intention and technique that can be understood. Although I would disagree with Picasso on trying to understand the song of birds ... many articles have been published about it.

Colin Green said...

I think Picasso's comment was a general observation. Yes, birdsong is used by birds to communicate with each other, but it's a closed book to most of us.

Anonymous said...

It is not a closed book for composers such as Messiaen...

Colin Green said...

He notated and used a great deal of birdsong, but I'm not sure wether he understood any of it and I'm unaware of any bird-meaning in its use in his music - it's the melodic and rythmic properties that interested him, not whether it meant "intruder alert", "I could murder a worm" or "I think I overdid the berries yesterday" :-)

James said...

Try the book"Why Birds Sing" by musician and philosopher David Rothenberg.There's also "Evan Parker With Birds"on Treader which is definitely worth a listen.

Anonymous said...

I guess it comes down to what you mean by "understand" and "meaning". A meaning could be expressed by emotions. And by the way, Messiaen was an ornithologist as well. :)

Colin Green said...

That sounds very Clintonesque. Maybe Messiaen could talk with the birds. I shall never listen to Catalogue d'oiseaux in the same way again :-)