Larry Ochs

The Fictive Five
Tzadik TZ 4012

By Ken Waxman

Clues to saxophonist Larry Ochs’ expansive cinematic approach to composition are that three of four lengthy tracks here salute filmmakers Wim Wenders, Kelly Reichardt and William Kentridge. Just as those cineastes advanced diverse takes on the language of film, so Ochs references the free music breakthroughs of John Coltrane and Albert Ayler. More crucially though, in the same way that none of these filmmaker’s work replicates earlier productions – or each others’ ideas – so too is The Fictive Five project a step beyond the visions of Ayler and Trane. Plus like film making this project is a group effort, the concepts of Ochs as writer-director are interpreted by a cast of Nate Wooley’s truculent trumpet sneers, drummer Harris Eisenstadt’s irregular splashes and snare splatters, the dynamo-like pressure that emanates from dual bassists Ken Filiano and Pascal Niggenkemper, plus like auteurs such as Orson Wells or John Cassavetes, a role for jagged abrasions that make up Ochs’ outlay on tenor and sopranino saxophone on the CD.

Take “By Any Other Name”, the appropriately animated salute to South African artist and animator Kentridge for instance. Here the bassists reveal their Internet-era adaptation of experimental music, judiciously tinging the thumping interchange with virtuosic strumming and twanging amplified by preparations and effects. As excitement is intensified via crying reed split tones, rim-shot pitter-patter and bugle call-like brassiness from Wooley, the bass lines eventually divide, with one bassist ruggedly advancing the theme while the other comments on it with an archer’s bow-like vibrations.

It’s this sort on intuitive communication that characterizes the rest of the CD as well. But expressiveness doesn’t have to mean stringent discordance. “Translucent” for example, dedicated to Reichardt, may begin with Eisenstadt’s metal garbage-can-lid approximating commotion intersecting with slobbering puffs and smears from the horns as the bassists put a choke hold on their instruments’ necks for more percussive pummeling. But by its climax – and the CD’s completion – tongue slaps and snarls turn to gnarly harmonies aided by banjo-like rhythmic plinks from the bassists.

Like the themes engendered in a well-made film, the sounds here highlight affinity as well as agitation for proper dramatic effects.

—For The Whole Note March 2016