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Rova Saxophone Quartet

The Circumference of Reason

Rova Saxophone Quartet: The Circumference of Reason (ESP Disk)

Four decades into their project, the SF Bay Area saxophone quartet ROVA of Bruce Ackley (soprano & tenor), Steve Adams (alto & sopranino), Larry Ochs (tenor) and Jon Raskin (baritone) continue expanding their magnificent repertoire with original compositions, collective improvisations, and a piece from Glenn Spearman (Cecil Taylor, Double Trio) arranged by Larry Ochs.

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product information:

UPC: 825481506120

Label: ESP Disk
Catalog ID: ESPDISK 5061CD
Squidco Product Code: 31048

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2021
Country: USA
Packaging: Digipack
Recorded at New, Improved Recording, in Oakland, California, on June 22nd, 2018, September 23rd, 2018 and July 1st, 2019, by John Finkbeiner.


Bruce Ackley-soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone

Steve Adams-alto saxophone, sopranino saxophone

Larry Ochs-tenor saxophone

Jon Raskin-baritone saxophone

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Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"After 40-plus years in action, the ROVA Saxophone Quartet has mastered and reinvented the sound of four varied saxophones working together, individually and toward some "X" factor collective voice. That unique legacy gains further proof of vision and forward motion on its new project on ESP.

Covering a range of tools in the saxophonic toolbox/palette, the combined forces of Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs and Jon Raskin offer up six tracks, bristling with the characteristic mesh of free play (often group improvisation versus soloing) and taut structural passages. Additional saxophonic reference comes in the form of homages to the late Glenn Spearman (who shared with ROVA a San Francisco Bay Area grounding). An Ochs-arranged version of Spearman's "The Extrapolation" opens the album, which closes with Adams' muscular elegy "The Enumeration," dedicated to Spearman. Keeping options and concepts open and subject to change is a long-running ROVA mandate, as evidenced here by two very different versions of the tune "NC 17," by turns atmospheric and antic.

While essentially operating under the aegis of jazz, nebulous though that moniker can be, ROVA incorporates aspects of modernist harmony and rhythm - shades of Messiaen, Bartók and unraveled Ravel, for instance - and swing-free minimalist kinetics, reminding us of the saxophone's original intention as a "classical" instrument (an intention that never fully came to fruition). Here, "Xenophobia" and the title track, "The Circumference Of Reason," assert chamber-like frameworks, interlaced with solo outings.

In all, Circumference teems with the stuff that makes ROVA an important institution, including locomotion, abstraction and a particular avant-reedy glory of its own devising."-Josef Woodard, Downbeat Magazine

"Despite the obvious obstacles, this singular San Francisco Bay Area band is staying on mission, moving forward. Over its four-plus decades, the quartet has defined itself by applying an array of improvisational strategies to an ever-expanding body of new music.

The Circumference of Reason includes six tracks composed or, in the case of the piece "NC17," designed between 2011 and 2016. Then - in typical ROVA fashion - the pieces were worked over and performed by the quartet in rehearsals and concerts until perceived to be ready for recording. They include an arrangement of a Glenn Spearman piece as well as a piece by Steve Adams dedicated to Glenn; the playing on both inspired by that expressive saxophonist's spirited personality and playing.

As well, this recording features two distinctly different versions of NC17, another in the series of ROVA's structured-improvisations, all of which have been designed using an ever-expanding set of visual and aural cues that the quartet has invented, or borrowed and adapted. On its face, "NC17" is simply a specific set of conceptual options to cue in, in any order, and to then explore, populating the spontaneously chosen series of cued events with immersive music/sounds/energies etc. The group creates a palpable sonic architecture for each new performance of the piece. Even as we write this, we can say that the takes of "NC17" you will hear on this CD are unique; no one take of "NC17" can be exactly the same as any other take of "NC17."

"ROVA performances can reach the soaring lyrical intensity of bel canto, the rough-and-tumble tumult of a garage rock band, or the insistently patterned matrix of a minimalist chamber work." So wrote Andrew Gilbert in 2018. The piece from which the CD's title comes, The Circumference of Reason, is a good example of a minimalist piece when penned by a ROVA composer, in this case Steve Adams."-ESP-Disk

"The San Francisco-based Rova Saxophone Quartet has been active since 1977, creating timbre-concentrated music that, typically following defined structures, finds ample room for improvisation. The four technically brilliant members of the ensemble - Jon Raskin, Steve Adams, Bruce Ackley and Larry Ochs - are known for their wide range approach, rhythmic inventiveness and intriguing arrangements, which incorporate a variety of tone colors.

On this new album, The Circumference of Reason, they opt for less cathartic grooves and a more self-possessed posture that achieves better outcomes on the opening and closing tracks, curiously both related to the late American free jazz saxophonist Glenn Spearman. The former cut, "The Extrapolation of the Inevitable", is one of his compositions, presenting synchronized angular melodies and extemporaneous concessions as parts of Ochs' competent arrangement; the latter number, "The Enumeration", is Adam's dedication to Spearman, where a solid horn-consummated background sustains fierce improvisation, and well-aligned collective passages take advantage of winding counterpoint.

The group harnesses its privileged communication, deepening the dialogues spontaneously on the two versions of "NC17". The Version 1 seeks hybrid states by infusing atmospheric ostinatos, drones and casual blows whose repose is occasionally disturbed by muscular incursions, percussive techniques and multiphonic grumbles. In turn, Version 2 is busier at the outset - including squawking cacophony and a pulsating baritone - before becoming whisperingly lost in thought. The tension returns in bursts for the final section, and the persistent ebb and flow that characterizes their pieces doesn't apply to the minimalist title track, a limbo of hushed, disperse sounds that left me lightly somnolent.

This mildly enjoyable Rova still provides some moments of fascinating horn interplay."-Filipe Freitas, Jazz Trail

Get additional information at Jazz Trail

Artist Biographies

"Bruce Ackley was born in Rochester, New York in 1948. Following in his father's footsteps, he began singing in choral groups at age 10. (His father performed in a vocal sextet as a young man in the 1930s.) Bruce sang throughout his school years and finally took up the saxophone in 1970. He formed his first improvising trio that year with friends from his art school days at Wayne State in Detroit, where he studied painting and drawing. In 1971 he relocated to the Bay Area. Largely self-taught, Bruce studied saxophone briefly with Lee Hester and Noel Jewkes, and clarinet with Beth Custer and Ben Goldberg. Throughout the 1970s he was involved with the emerging free improvisation scene in San Francisco, and formed Sound Clinic with Lewis Jordan and George Sams in 1975. He began playing with Larry Ochs in 1973 and Jon Raskin in 1975, which led to the formation of Rova in the fall of 1977.

Since that time Ackley has mainly devoted his musical life to his work with Rova, with some notable side projects. In 1977 he performed and recorded with the quartet Twins, featuring John Zorn on reeds, and Eugene Chadbourne and Henry Kaiser on guitars. During the 1980s he played regularly with trombone-electronics wizard, J.A. Deane and drummer Joseph Sabella. They formed Planet X in 1992, which performed extensively in the Bay Area and made a recording at that time. Bruce has also performed with the Italian bass virtuoso, Stefano Scodanibbio. In 1996 they performed together with koto-electronics player Miya Masaoko, and the brilliant cellist, Rohan de Seram, formerly of the Arditti String Quartet. That year Ackley formed a trio to perform his more jazz-oriented original compositions, Actual Size, with George Cremaschi on bass and Garth Powell on drums. This led to the recording The Hearing by the Bruce Ackley Trio, featuring Joey Baron on Drums and Greg Cohen on bass, and released on the John Zorn-curated Japanese label Avant. During the late 1990s Bruce formed Frankenstein, a jazz repertory band that played the music of many of the forward-looking artists of the early '60s, particularly Grachan Moncur III, Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, and Jackie McLean-providing him an opportunity to dig into material that significantly impacted Ackley during formative years."

-Rova:Arts (

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"Steve Adams has appeared on more than fifty recordings, and has six recordings as leader or co- leader on the 9 Winds and Clean Feed labels, the latest of them being Surface Tension by the Steve Adams Trio.

Steve has performed the premieres of numerous classical compositions, including Prisoner of Love by Robert Aldridge for soprano saxophone and piano, Thomas Oboe Lee's Saxxologie... A Sextet for saxophone sextet and Louie MCMLV for saxophone quartet, and Passing Time by Jon Nelson for tenor saxo¬phone and computer-generated tape. He performed Edmund Campion's Corail for saxophone and computer generated electronics with the Berkeley Symphony and at the Ojai Music Festival. Steve has performed Darius Milhaud's Scaramouche and Pauline Oliveros' Outline for Double Bass, Flute, and Percussion at Mills College. He was a member of the 25th Anniversary performance of Terry Riley's In C, which was released on New Albion.

Steve has written more than fifty compositions for saxophone quartet, as well as many others for varied instrumentations. His piece Cage (for John Cage) was performed at the 1993 Bang on a Can festival, and his piece The Gene Pool was commissioned by Meet the Composer and performed at their festival "The Works" in Minneapolis in 2002. His composition Owed t'Don was recorded by the violin/marimba duo Marimolin on their CD Phantasmata . In recent years, Steve has begun creating graphic scores, now numbering more than 40. Steve has also written for theater, having composed scores for seven productions at the California Shakespeare Festival. He received a California Arts Council Fellowship in 2000 and a Meet the Composer grant in 1993, and teaches at Mills College. Steve is a graduate of the School of Contemporary Music in Brookline, MA and studied composition with Alan Crossman, Christopher Yavelov and Thomas Oboe Lee, saxophone with David Birkin and Indian music with Peter Row and Steve Gorn. "

-Rova:Arts (

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"Larry Ochs (b. May 3, 1949, New York City) is an American jazz saxophonist and composer. Ochs studied trumpet briefly but concentrated on tenor and sopranino saxophones. He worked as a record producer and founded his own label, Metalanguage Records, in 1978, in addition to operating the Twelve Stars studio in California. He co-founded the Rova Saxophone Quartet, and also worked in Glenn Spearman's Double Trio. A frequent recipient of commissions, he composed the music for the play Goya's L.A. by Leslie Scalapino in 1994 and for Letters Not About Love, which was named best documentary film at SXSW in 1998. He has also played in a new music trio called Room and the What We Live ensemble. He has recorded several albums as a leader. He formed the group Kihnoua in 2007 with vocalist Dohee Lee and Scott Amendola on drums and electronics, which released Unauthorized Caprices in 2010. He is married to the poet Lyn Hejinian."

-Wikipedia (

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"Highlights of Rova founding member Jon Raskin's early career include his '70s participation in new music ensembles directed by John Adams (San Francisco Conservatory of Music) and Dr. Barney Childs (University of Redlands). Before Rova, Raskin served as music director of the Tumbleweed Dance Company (1974-77), was a founding member of the Blue Dolphin Alternative Music Space and participated in the creation of the Farm- an art project that included a city farm, a community garden, Ecology Center, Dance and Theater companies and organized the creation of a city park. Highlights as a member of Rova include composing a collaborative work for SF Taiko Dojo/Rova, working with Howard Martin on the installation work Occupancy, composing music for Mr. Bungle/ Rova, organizing the 30 year Anniversary Concert of John Coltrane's Ascension, performing the music of Miles Davis at the Fillmore with Yo Miles!, the Glass Head project with Inkboat and the ongoing Electric Ascension project.

Raskin has received numerous grants and commissions to work on a variety of creative projects: NEA composer grant for Poison Hotel, a theater production by Soon 3 (1988); Reader's Digest/Meet the Composer (1992 & 2000); Berkeley Symphony commission (1995) and Headland Center for the Arts Residency 2009.

Besides over 30 recordings with Rova, Raskin's recording experience include Anthony Braxton, Eight (+3) Tristano Compositions 1989 For Warne Marsh (1989) and The Bass & the Bird Pond with Tim Berne (1996), Wavelength Infinity- A Sun Ra Tribute, Between Spaces with Phillip Gelb, Dana Reason & Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley's In C 25th Anniversary, and solo work on the Art Ship Series. His current CDs include Let's go Juke Box Suite (Not Two) with the Rova Saxophone Quartet , JR Quartet (Rastascan) with Liz Allbee, George Cremaschi and Gino Robair, Music + One (Rastascan) an improvisation compendium for improvisers to play along with and Kaolithic Music, Jaw Harp Music recorded in a 587 Gallon Vase (Evander Music) He is working on several new recordings, one with a JR Quartet for release in 2009, a Rova project of graphic scores composed by Steve Adams and Jon Raskin, a compilation from the 2 + 2 series that Phillip Greenlief and Jon Raskin presented at the 21 Grand Performance Gallery in Oakland and a poetry and music project with Carla Harryman called Open Box.

Other groups are The Jon Raskin Quartet featuring Liz Albee on trumpet John Shiurba on bass and Gino Robair, a duo with Kanoko Nishi on Koto and a trio with Matthew Goodheart and Vladimir Tarasov."

-Rova:Arts (

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Track Listing:

1. The Extrapolation of the Inevitable 5:04

2. NC 17, Version 1 10:17

3. The Circumference of Reason 9:51

4. Xenophobia 6:24

5. NC 17, Version 2 13:04

6. The Enumeration 8:08

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
Collective Free Improvsation
Recordings by or featuring Reed & Wind Players
Quartet Recordings
West Coast/Pacific US Jazz
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