Ochs-Robinson Duo

The Throne
NotTwo MW 918-2

By Ken Waxman

Eschewing all regal trappings this game of throne strips interactive improvisation to its bare bones, demonstrating how expansive a duet between one saxophonist and one drummer can be. ROVA member soprano and tenor saxophonist Larry Ochs doesn’t need other reed backup on these nine tracks, carving out strategies involving sharpened abstraction plus an underlying swing, which at points is surprisingly harmonious. Responsive rather than confrontational, Donald Robinson uses all parts of his kit from cymbals to bass drum to push, promote or punctuate the interface.

While tarter tunes such as “Red Tail” and “Breakout” give Ochs a Sonny Rollins-like showcase to extract all possible tonal consideration from a theme, abandoning it like a dog with a bone, only when maximum improvisational nourishment has been extracted; others lines are more sympathetic. “Push Hands” for instance, one of two memorials to departed musicians, is a study in pinched chromatics. Here Robinson bends his beats with an Africanized lilt, in order to accompany Ochs’ gravelly threnody. “Song 2” is another revelation. What starts off as an essay in modulated reed slides and smears wedded to a rumpled pulse, by its conclusion becomes a vibrant, coherent narrative that assumes song form.

Near-human vocalized cries which Ochs pulls from both his horns throughout are refined from stacks of timbral smears to a growly renal-like exposition that defines the concluding title track. At the same time Ochs’ thematic exposition relates back to Open to the Light, the first track, memorializing another musician. Ultimately Robinson’s emphasized ruff marks a distinct ending both to the final piece and this well-balanced program.

—For The Whole Note May 2015