Larry Ochs works on and breathes music. He composes. He plays saxophone. He looks for adventurous ideas to take on and for other artists - musicians and friends in other art mediums - to take them on with him.
Ochs is primarily found in the worlds of “avant-garde” or “improvised music.” That means that he composes music for “structured improvisation” in general, and in particular for musicians steeped in the art of improvisation, an art form that has really only come into its own in Western music in the past 50 years, primarily thanks to the development of jazz as influenced by the blues and then by Western art music, as well as to the increased exposure of Western musicians to the music of Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.
But any artists in the visual arts or other performance-based arts that have an interest in taking chances are welcomed in. Thus, for example, he has worked with Shinichi Iova Koga and his dance group inkBoat; he and Rova have collaborated with We Players, a very cool theater company in the Bay Area, and has toured and recorded with Korean performance artist and vocalist Dohee Lee.
Rova Saxophone Quartet: Since 1978, Ochs's professional activities have been primarily centered around the Rova Saxophone Quartet, (www.rova.org) which has made over thirty-five European tours plus numerous concerts throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as recording over 30 CDs/LPs as a quartet and/or in collaboration with other artists. Ochs has created roughly two dozen compositions for saxophone quartet as well as other pieces for Rova within larger ensembles, many of which are recorded, and some of which were commissioned by Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Foundation and Meet the Composer. He has been executive director of Rova:Arts since 1988. A recent concert video and accompanying documentary on the making of “Electric Ascension” recorded at 2012 Guelph Jazz Festival was screen at film festivals in 2014, and released by Rogue Art in 2016. Samples of the two films: CLICK HERE
As CEO of Rova:Arts, he books tours for Rova and produces shows in the Bay Area. Unusual shows in extraordinary environments have included the Rova-produced bi-annual event New Music on the Mountain, taking place at the top of Mt. Tamalpais overlooking San Francisco Bay from approx.. 1996 – 2004. The annual Rovaté concert series has taken place since 2000 and generally features a wolrd premier work or set of works for Rova plus guest artists. And with Rova he has helped organize concerts in Grace Cathedral (San Francisco), the 16th century Minoriten Monastery (Wels, Austria) and the 12th century Plasy Monastery (Czech Republic).
In addition Ochs currently composes for and leads The Fictive Five with New York–based musicians Nate Wooley, Ken Filiano, Pascal Niggenkemper, Harris Eisenstadt (“The Fictive Five”- 2015 CD on Tzadik / 2019 CD on Clean Feed); Larry Ochs Aram Shelton Quartet («Continental Drift» — 2020 CD); Kihnoua with vocalist Dohee Lee, Scott Amendola and special guests ("The Sybil’s Whisper"- 2012 CD - music samples here); Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core with Scott Amendola, Don Robinson, Satoko Fujii, and Natsuki Tamura. He is performing in and often composing for more “collective” bands such as: Trio Nels Cline / Gerald Cleaver / Larry Ochs; Ochs-Robinson Duo with drummer Don Robinson («A Civil Right»— 2021 CD); Jones Jones - with Mark D resser and Vladimir Tarasov («Just Justice» - 2022 CD on ESP-Disk); East-West Collective with Didier Petit, Sylvain Kassap, Miya Masaoka, Xu Fengxia ("Humeurs" - 2014 CD - music samples); Maybe Monday - with Miya Masaoka and Fred Frith (Unsquare -2008 CD); Trio Dave Rempis- Darren Johnston- Larry Ochs (3 recordings since 2012).
Ochs has composed some 2 dozen compositions for saxophone quartet as well as many other pieces for sax quartet plus large ensembles; he has also composed for mixed ensembles (see groups mentioned in previous paragraph). His 2001 composition for saxophone quartet, a thirty-minute piece entitled Certain Space, was commissioned by Chamber Music America / Doris Duke Foundation, and he was twice previously commissioned by Commissioning Music USA / Meet the Composer Fund. In 1995 he was commissioned by city of Antwerp, Belgium to compose a piece for 2 pianos, 2 basses, Rova Sax Quartet and the members of Room; entitled The Secret Magritte, it featured Marilyn Crispell and Chris Brown on pianos and Lisle Ellis and Barry Guy on basses and was released on the Black Saint label a year later. In 1993 he was commissioned by Saalfelden Jazz Festival to write music for 8 saxophonists, also later released on Black Saint as “Figure 8.” He composed the music for the film Letters Not About Love which won best documentary film award at the 1998 South by Southwest Film Festival. His monograph on "Strategies for Structured Improvisation" was published in 1999 as part of the book Arcana, the initial collection of composers' writings edited by John Zorn (Granary Press, New York). He has also composed for theater and one video play.
In 1998, he toured and recorded with guitarist Fred Frith and koto-player Miya Masaoka in a trio called Maybe Monday. A CD was released by this trio on Buzz (Netherlands) in 2000. A second CD with guest Joan Jeanrenaud was released in 2002 on Winter & Winter (Germany) in time for an 8 city European tour. A third CD with multiple guests came out on Intakt in 2007.
In 1997, Ochs first recorded with the John Lindberg Ensemble (Ochs, Lindberg, Andrew Cyrille, Leo Smith); a tour and second recording took place in 2000; a third recording and tour followed in 2002.
In 1995, he was a guest soloist with the George Lewis Creative Orchestra at Mills College in Oakland, California. Also in 1995, he performed and recorded with India Cooke's group, Red Handed.
From 1994 – 2000 he toured in the collective band What We Live with bassist Lisle Ellis and drummer Donald Robinson, producing 5 CDs, two of which included guests Dave Douglas and Wadada Leo Smith on trumpets.
In 1991, he suggested a collaboration between Room and The Glenn Spearman Trio, a sextet that eventually became an ongoing band, and recorded 4 CDs as Glenn Spearman Double Trio.
In 1990, he and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz formed The International Creative Music Orchestra for the Pan American Goodwill Games in Seattle with further performances at the Vancouver DuMaurier International Jazz Festival.
From 1987 – 1994 the group Room with William Winant, Chris Brown and Scot Gresham-Lancaster torued and recorded. This was a pioneering band combining elements of impropvisation, composition and live electronics, based at Mills College in Oakland, California.
Ochs’s long welcoming speech on (the Sax & Drumming Core piece) ‘Across from Over’ is one of the best available representations on record of his remarkable post-post-Coltrane style, an ironclad line that ripples with harmonic potential.
The Rova Saxophone Quartet … took its inspiration from the work of musicians such as Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, and Roscoe Mitchell (and his Art Ensemble of Chicago), all of whom had worked with new compositional techniques and approaches to improvisation. From the outset, Rova flouted dogma, putting a premium on group interaction and eschewing the stultifying head-solo-head approach of most jazz. The group embraced the complexities of contemporary music-both composed and improvised-and found a way to seamlessly weave them together into a music that had the density and thorniness of Monk, the lushness of Ellington, and the angularity-and occasionally the austerity-of Webern. In Rova's hands, the twelve-bar blues came face to face with twelve-tone music.