ROVA

Planetary
SoLyd SLR 0407

Exquisitely empathetic after having played together for more than 30 years, Bay-area-based saxophone quartet ROVA still operates in a fashion that is as vigorous as it is eloquent, as this CD demonstrates. More to the point it confirms the quartet’s interaction, when you realize that the program which fits together seamlessly, is sutured between three compositions recorded in 2009, and two – including the title track – created six years earlier.

Just as generic to the situation, is that in performance ROVA is never at a loss for unique modulations and blends to introduce to the sound. The reason is two-fold, except for one personnel change very early on, the members of ROVA: soprano and tenor saxophonist Bruce Ackley; alto saxophonist Steve Adams; tenor saxophonist Larry Ochs; and Jon Raskin, who plays baritone and alto saxophone here, have been together long enough intuit the others’ reed strategies, and are confident enough to allow the music to develop organically. Additionally, over three decades not only has ROVA involved itself in a variety of thematic material and with many guests, but also the quartet isn’t anyone’s solitary pursuit. Each saxophonist – Ochs more than the others – spreads himself among other bands.

To get an idea of the CD’s process, consider Ochs’ “Planetary”, which was conceived of as a game piece structured with improvisational cells. Its contents shift according to cues as well as responses to the other player(s)’ sonic colors. This strategy leads to single interpretations involving tongue slaps, split tones and key percussion before interludes reverberate into unifying polyphony. Although the sometimes simultaneous solos are sprawling and staccato these sour and dyspeptic pressurized vamps are only one part of the composition. When the four work up to undulating unison harmonies, the linear result puts the lie to anyone claiming experimental sounds can’t also be affecting and lyrical.

This is true too for the other Ochs composition and those written by Adams. Each is careful layered so that each tone from top to bottom is heard clearly in the mix, with treble whistling as audible as gruff snorts. For added liveliness there’s a hint of fralicher phraseology in Ochs’ tune “S”. As noteworthy, Adams’ “Parallel Construction #2” sympathetically harmonizes mellow tones. Again while individual expression incorporates pressurized double tonguing and broken glissandi, the composition takes on linear form when reeds vibrating congruently and collectively expose different tempi, times and pitches from New Thing echoes to martial music.

Although initially conceived of as a dance score, “Glass Head Concretion” by Adams, could be the most definitive track since there’s a distinctive part for each player. More remarkable is that by its conclusion the quartet manages to reach a three-dimensional concordance that is concomitantly studded with pressurized flattement and juddering split tones.

Familiarity actually breeds distinction in ROVA’s. So, it doesn’t seem a stretch to imagine that the quartet will continue to make music of this matchless quality for years to come.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Parallel Construction #1 2. S 3. Flip Trap 4. Glass Head Concretion 5. Planetary 6. Parallel Construction #2

Personnel: Bruce Ackley (soprano and tenor saxophones); Steve Adams (alto saxophone); Larry Ochs (tenor saxophone) and Jon Raskin (baritone and alto saxophones)