As Was
Atavistic Unheard Music UMS/ALP 216 CD

Founded at around the same time as the World Saxophone Quartet in the late 1970s, ROVA has always existed as a sort of the Bizarro West Coast twin to the that woodwind ensemble.

Yet today, when all-saxophone groupings are as commonplace as self-important pronouncements from Wynton Marsalis, listening to this 1981 disc shows exactly how ROVA defined itself and has since managed to evolve. Open to influences as varied as 20th Century classical music, avant garde jazz and rock music, ROVA often produced a devil may care cacophony that was as consistent as it was exhilarating.

As the WSQ became more and more "jazzy" in the 1980s, recording an album of Duke Ellington tunes and gaining the ultimate accolade of being included in the updated Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, ROVA maintained its singular path.

You can hear it on this CD, which chronologically, was its sixth session. "Under the Street Where You Live", a completely improvised piece dedicated to Albert Ayler, is supposed to be a vehicle for Ochs on tenor saxophone. But the baritone saxophone ostinato and the soprano saxophone filigree decorations are such that when the tenor man gets into dog whistle territory, the other reeds are there to propel the tune forward.

Then there's the almost 19 and one half minutes of "Paint Another Take of the Shootpop". Honoring both French composer Oliver Messiaen and soul shouter Otis Redding, it's a mixture of composed and improvised sections, referencing Dixieland polyphony and Gaelic naturalistic mysticism, with parts for nearly every one of the quartet's doubles and triples. Note this composition was put together years before the likes of Don Byron and John Zorn routinely offered up similar morsels of pomo commingling.

Midway through the tune, Raskin explodes with such roughhouse baritone sax lines that molten lava seems to spurt from the instrument's bell. Then the piece divides with the baritone and tenor sticking to the bottom and the soprano and alto on top, with the horn aurally somersaulting one over another.

Finally, despite its Beatlesque dedication — "for Mr. Kite" — "Daredevils" actually opens with what sounds like a baroque fanfare. Wisely reprogrammed on the reissue to the beginning from the end of the disc, it now serves as an aperitif to what will be served afterwards. This likely through-composed number depends on the four horns hiding and seeking one another out with melodies and countermelodies. Artfully blended throughout, it on a sustained unison grace note.

In the 20 years since AS WAS was recorded, ROVA has maintains its high standards and exploratory ways. The only shift in personnel has seen another multi-reedist Steve Adams stepping in for Andrew Voight in 1988. Anyone interested in the band — or merely the joy of sax — would be well advised to investigate this session.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Daredevils 2. Quill 3. Escape From Zero Village 4. Under the Street Where You Live 5. Paint Another Take of the Shootpop

Personnel: Jon Raskin (soprano, alto and baritone saxophones, clarinet); Larry Ochs (sopranino, alto and tenor saxophones); Andrew Voigt (sopranino, soprano and alto saxophones, flute); Bruce Ackley (soprano saxophone, clarinet)