Larry Ochs/Sax & Drumming Core
Up From Under


Possessing an instrumental voice that's quite easy to recognize, Larry Ochs is without a doubt the member of the ROVA Saxophone Quartet who has worked the most in order to build a personal identity of his own, in a variety of contexts, running in parallel to the activity of that highly celebrated (!) line-up. Sax & Drumming Core is the name of the trio where Ochs's saxophones (here he's on tenor and sopranino) play alongside the drums of Donald Robinson and Scott Amendola. The fifth volume in Atavistic's "variable line-ups" series called "Out Trios",  Up From Under is (provided I'm not mistaken) the group's second album, about seven years after The Neon Truth, on Black Saint.

Ochs needs no introduction, obviously. Robinson has a large discography; talking only about those recordings where he plays with Ochs, let's not forget the two "covers" by ROVA of John Coltrane's Ascension: the one recorded in 1995, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the recording of the original album, released by Black Saint in 1997; and the very different one recorded in 2003, which released two years later on Atavistic as Electric Ascension under the name Rova::Orchestrova; there's also those half-a-dozen-plus albums by the "elastic trio" which goes under the name What We Live, where the third musician is the excellent double bass player Lisle Ellis; I could have written a highly favourable review of what I believe to be the group's most recent album, Sound Catcher, if only the vocal performance of Saadet Türköz hadn't added a somewhat facile ethnic music climate of the kind that's easy to catch on many "Jazz Festivals". Strange to notice, the only member of Sax & Drumming Core that I had the chance to ever see play live is the one that - though he has a sizable discography (his collaboration with guitar player Nels Cline being well-known) - I've listened to the least: Scott Amendola having been the drummer in the trio assembled by Californian musician Emily Bezar that I caught in Malta during the summer 2006.

The organization of the recorded work is very clear: here we have Ochs in the centre, Robinson on the left, Amendola on the right. Robinson's drums have a "big" sound that's rich in harmonics, which in some ways reminded me of the many Sonor drum sets I saw live in the course of the 80s; Amendola's sound has faster attacks and releases, in some ways it being the one that "rocks" the most. Nice communication among the players, nice instrumental interchange, nice compatibility.

To anticipate my conclusion, Up From Under is an album of many merits, but which also has a few (non-minor) problems. With just one exception, all eight tracks were composed by Ochs, who in more than one occasion - see especially the "hushed" reed of his tenor on Dragons Fly, or the "untempered" intonation on Finn Passes Pluto - appears to openly remember the lessons of Roscoe Mitchell. The material is sufficiently varied, while the work of the two drummers - check their beautiful performance on Dragons Fly, where Amendola is spot-on on the toms, while Robinson subtly uses brushes on his snare - is quite good.

So, what's not to like? The big problem with the album is that it goes on and on - more than one hour for its eight tracks -, too long for what it has to say. The opening track, Up From Under, has Ochs on tenor playing with a force that would have been more appropriate for early-period Gato Barbieri, and talking in general - check also Poporfa - it almost sounds like the fury and stamina are supposed to take the place of an architectural framework that's severely underdeveloped. The same is true of the drums, that at times seem to simply "mark the time" while waiting for an idea. In the old days of the vinyl album, this material - recorded in Venice in 2004 in the course of two nights (I'm sure I would have looked at my watch quite often) - would have been severely edited, to anybody's satisfaction.

(Strange thing, this is the way Brian Morton and the late Richard Cook, after a review that for the most part is highly favourable, close their review of The Neon Truth which appears in the Seventh Edition of The Penguin Guide To Jazz On CD: "So why the lowly rating? Because it's actually a very dull listen, impressive rather than enjoyable or moving." So?)

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2007 | Dec. 16, 2007