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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Larry Ochs Sax And Drumming Core - Wild Red Yellow (RogueArt, 2017) ****½

By Stef

Larry Ochs is one of those musicians who's received several five-star ratings over the years, with various bands and projects (ROVAThe Fictive Five, the East-West Collective, Spiller Alley, Fly Fly Fly) and quite a number of high ratings for other initiatives. 

One of those other five-start projects is "Drumming Core" with "Up From Under" (2007), getting the top score. Other albums by the project are "Stone Shift" (2009), and their first "The Neon Truth" which was released before our blog was started. 

The original band were Ochs on sax, with Scott Amendola and Donald Robinson on drums. For "Stone Shift", Satoko Fujii joined on piano, as did Natsuki Tamura on trumpet. There's another change here: Donald Robinson has been replaced by Matthias Bossi on thunder drum, Chinese gongs, shaky flotsam and percussion, and William Winant on timpani, roto-toms and percussion. The reason for that is not to add power, but to add percussive color and depth. 

The album consists of three long pieces, composed by Ochs. Although composition is maybe too strong a word. Since its inception, the band uses structured forms as the basis for improvisation. The performance itself already dates from 2011, but it took Ochs and Phil Perkins three years to mix the sound until it got its current shape. 

The inspiration, like on the previous album, are films. Before it was Kurosawa, now Julie Taymor and David Cronenberg. Not surprisingly, I've also described Fujii and Tamura's music before as cinematic, playing stories with an inherent sense of drama. As Larry Ochs describes it himself : These soundscapes are dedicated to film-makers I deeply admire and am (conceptually) inviting to create imagery for the already-created sounds. But more to the point, I’m inviting every listener to close his or her eyes and create images or a story or a place for contemplation within the context of the musical time-lapse. This is a group of equals and a group in which the implied hierarchy of horn / harmony / rhythm has been suspended”. 

The music is incredibly hard to describe. It is powerful, unrelenting, intense, full of dramatic development and sonic story-telling. 

"Omenicity" - a neologism, a contraction of 'omen' and 'city' - starts with possibly the most unwelcoming introduction to any album, with chaotic interplay without any clear sense of direction apart from antagonistic and conflictual sounds, bouncing against a percussive rhythmless madness, and shifts into a calmer moment of more introspective, even sad sounds by the sax, challenged by the trumpet, as two people dialoguing against a backdrop of running people or stamping feet or whatever action is taking place, because the percussion does everything except developing an explicit rhythm, as do the horns, they have their own logic and personality, constantly clashing and moving forward yet linked together through their chance meeting. 

"A Sorcerer's Fate" is equally intense and scary, with - most unexpected of all - a sudden unison theme erupting in the middle of the piece, one that could have been written by Ornette Coleman, only to disappear completely and to return briefly again much later, dissolving in a wonderful solo by Ochs, deep, resonating and wild, pushed aside by an even more intense piano avalanche by Fujii. 

The long last title track starts with bird calls evaporating in empty space, over a rumbling background of small percussion, followed by synth sounds equally crying up to the sky, and gradually all the sounds start coalescing into a sonic mesh, with Tamura's whispered trumpet and the timpani becoming suddenly overpowered by the sax and the drums, giving the piece a totally different and unexpected direction, violent and intense. The surprise element is possibly the only constant, with suddens stops and re-starts, mad trumpet and skittering piano lines and roaring sax and pounding percussion, only to change again into an eery false calm atmosphere, more one of unhappy resignation than of peace of mind. Fujii adds some more bizarre synth sounds to accentuate the discomfort. I am not sure to which extent the piece actually tries to evoke the Cronenberg movies, with their fascination between human and technology (EXistenZ), or of bodily transformations (The Fly), of very physical sensations of psychological pain (Dead Ringers). But that's how the music sounds: hard, uncompromosing, human and fascinating, as if the chaos and rash violence depicts the world in all its madness with the sparse cries of humanity piercing through once in a while. 

In sum, this is again a listening experience which will leave you breathless. It is demanding, rich, complex, varied, intense and deep. It is sufficiently daring to change musical forms, even challenging the trained ears of people accustomed to avant-garde music. Yet it is rewarding. Again. It is one of those albums that you can only appreciate by listening to it in its entirety. 

Don't miss it. 


Captain Hate said...

This is the second time you've mistakenly not called the group Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core. Sorry to come off as a pedantic scold but that seems kind of important.

Larry Ochs said...

Wow! Love the review. So nice to know that (1) you got to hear the music and (2) it made you sweat. Me too actually. It wasn't so much that it took three years to mix it. It was more about getting a handle on what was there, on listening to all the amazing possibilities and getting a handle on what we wanted to emphasize in the mix. In fact I'm a little bit sorry that we didn't release two different mixes of it. But you know, we can't expect anyone else to dive that deeply besides the "composer" and the audio engineer. (Another reason this took so long is that Mr. Perkins is a sound-engineer for film-makers in real life, and his time for doing these crazy improvised-music projects is limited.)

In fact though, I am responding to Captain Hate's message above. First of all: yes, the name of the band is "Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core." But this time the record label blew it, and somehow I missed that they used "AND" instead of "&" in proofreading the front cover. Terrible miss.

Luckily we didn't play any of these pieces during the Jazz Police Incident in 2009 in Spain, or we'd still be behind bars. :--)