Larry Ochs / The Fictive Five

Nate Wooley, Trumpet / Pascal Niggenkemper, Bass + Prepared Bass / Ken Filiano, Bass + Effects / Harris Eisenstadt, Drums / Larry Ochs, Tenor and Sopranino Saxophones


Track Listing: Similitude (for Wim Wenders) (24:40); A Marked Refraction (4:21); By Any Other Name (for William Kentridge) (22:26); Translucent (for Kelly Reichardt) (17:39). All compositions by Larry Ochs, Trobar, ASCAP admin. by BMG-Chrysalis. Producer Larry Ochs; executive producer John Zorn; associate producer Kazunori Sugiyama. Recorded December 5, 2014 by Marc Urselli at East Side Sound, NYC. Mixed in 2015 by Myles Boisen at Headless Buddha Lab, Oakland, CA. Mastered by Scott Hull. Cover, back cover and disc art by Lyn Hejinian. Ochs photo by Matthew Campbell. Obi photo by Ken Filiano. Design by Heung-Heung Chin. Release Date: October 30, 2015.

The first thing you might notice when perusing The Fictive Five composition titles is that three of them are dedicated to film-makers; artists outside the music world. I was thinking the other day that that might be indicative of the situation “music” finds itself in these days. Which is to say, very briefly, slightly less respected than it once was, since there was a time when music was most often appreciated for itself. Everyone sat around the radio, I’m told (not that old), digging the new release by Duke Ellington, or the then-famous blues players. But even after television, in my time when we sat around with our stereos, there was still tons of live music, multiple touring venues, and of course mostly concerts where one sat and watched the musicians play, and that was enough. It seems like a lot of that ambience has gone away in the 21st century, at least for now.

Just a couple of decades ago, I spent tons of time listening to recordings by Steve Lacy, who seemed to dedicate every piece he wrote to one great artist or the other, and primarily to musicians. I am currently composing or “creating” a lot of structured-improvisational schemes, including the three long pieces on this CD. (More on that in a minute.) The dedications are to film creators (William Kentridge is - I would say – primarily known as an installation-artist but often creates animated films as part of or all of his installed creations. Wim Wenders you all know for sure; a great humanist among other things; his recent documentaries are all ultra-inspiring. Kelly Reichardt I know less about because she’s been made fewer films, but her sense of time and her use of space are both very powerful parts of why her films resonate for me.) Now usually when the film and music worlds meet, the music is added on after the film is basically completed. But I’m thinking differently here. Number one possibility might be that I’m listening to a piece after recording it and imagining a favorite director that might be moved by it enough to organize images to that piece of music. But I like this next raison d’etre for the dedications much more: I’m inspired to create musical landscapes that the listener when closing her eyes can then imagine her own visual images into, inspired by my music. That’s something everyone can do, and without any budget at all. Turn on the music, sit back, and let the images roll inside your head. Stan Brakhage liked to say that his films were the music; they didn’t need any actual musical accompaniment. (And he was right. I’d like to see a dance choreographer take this attitude and present his choreography without music; the possibilities for audience participation would be much greater.)

So maybe I’ll take the attitude that this music is the film, the story, or the imagery, only everyone gets the opportunity to decide for themselves what the imagery is, what they’re seeing. When listening to music, the fun is in the seeing; there’s no need “to understand it.” If you’re looking to understand music, I think – and I know this is very personal – one is approaching the experience the wrong way. “Be there” with the sounds; actively collaborate. Trust that the composer or the collaborative improvisers are setting up a playground of sound that you can join in on.

As to the process in operation on the compositions on The Fictive Five, I have been saying what follows from almost the start of my life in improvised music —back when Rova
 got going in the late ’70s—but now, so many years later, I love the
 idea that what I aimed for back then works better than ever now. Namely: I create compositions for improvisers; structures that act not as pre-arranged enclosures
 for musicians to inhabit without spoiling any of the arrangements, but rather as free-form apparatuses that encourage them to take out their best color wands and music machines, playing on those instruments while themselves being ratcheted up to a most intense focus. And the goal is simple: to change the opening question when two musicians meet from “Are you working?” to “What’s exciting you?” I think that the other gifted musicians on this CD—when introduced to the four compositions on the recording—could sense in the very first rehearsal that there was something special within each piece for them to discover. And that’s my other goal: to create pieces that invite musicians in, even as they’re being pushed out and into the wild. Together.

Today’s best improvisers make room in each musical soundscape for all the participants, and their own contributions to any given terrain make the others’ contributions sound that much better. And once confidence in your fellow explorers is established — and The Fictive Five seemed to jell during our very first performance at my Stone residency in 2013—then it’s all about focusing in on our journey together after that. No
 fear of failing if the band has your back. All three extended works 
involve coded charts, including signs introduced to me by Lisle
 Ellis during the What We Live era. Some notation;
 some visual cues developed with Rova. 
Enjoy the rides.

Early Reviews:

By Stuart Broomer in NYC Jazz Record:

Larry Ochs may be best known as one-quarter of the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, the Bay-area group, which, in its near-40 year history, has created large-scale works with composers as diverse as Terry Riley and Barry Guy. Ochs’ projects outside of ROVA have often been just as noteworthy. He first assembled The Fictive Five for a performance at his 2013 residency at The Stone and this recent recording testifies to the way the band’s strengths realize Ochs’ compositional methodology.

It’s a band of mostly younger New York musicians: trumpeter Nate Wooley, bassists Ken Filiano and Pascal Niggenkemper and drummer Harris Eisenstadt. A certain empathy is assured, with Wooley and Niggenkemper members of Eisenstadt’s Canada Day among other associations, but Ochs’ approach to organization supports and emphasizes the band’s creative strengths. Each of Ochs’ extended pieces makes extensive use of cues with some specified drones and occasional melodic figures, creating open- ended works playing to the band’s developed spontaneity and genuinely collective vision.

The compositions are fundamentally cinematic, each dedicated to a filmmaker and conceived as a kind of soundtrack, a sequence of shifting textures that might generate images rather than serve them. The opening “Similitude (for Wim Wenders)” moves from an opening unison cry and fragment of melody through segments highlighted by Wooley shifting from clarion call to wild sprays of particulate sound and Ochs using his sopranino to suggest a shofar. Ultimately, though, it’s a collective creation: the bassists often function orchestrally, with bowed chords and multiphonics dense with microtones and Eisenstadt constantly prodding and commenting on everything around him.

“By Any Other Name (for William Kentridge)” has a modal “Spanish tinge” (Jelly Roll Morton’s term), something that will link this to figures from Morton through Miles and Coltrane, but, like all the music here, it’s consistently fresh. It breaks new ground while working through the deep roots of Ochs’ conception, invoking Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler to achieve a depth of expression reaching back to New Orleans primitives (according to Jerome Rothenberg, “primitive means complex”) like the Eureka Brass Band.  (January 2016)


By Stef on

Larry Ochs - The Fictive Five (Tzadik, 2015) *****

I couldn't agree more with Larry Ochs' statement that "if you're looking to understand music, one is approaching it the wrong way", because it is the experience that counts, the total impact of the sound on your own biochemistry, including such bodily reactions as emotion, spiritual delight or goose bumps.

On this phenomenal album, the saxophonist assembled a New York band consisting of Ken Filiano and Pascal Niggenkemper on bass, Nate Wooley on trumpet and Harris Eisenstadt on drums, at the occasion of Ochs' curatorship at The Stone in New York, and these musicians, under Ochs' leadership create that unique experience that escapes rational disection and analysis.

The approach taken here is to create musical imagery, scenic moments that are partly composed, and mostly improvised, as if you can see the music in your mind's eye, and these are mostly abstract landscapes with changing and shifting horizons and colors, with a strong horizontal feeling of flux as the unpredictable sounds move the listener forward on this journey.

The album consists of four tracks, three of which are dedicated to visual artists - Wim Wenders, William Kentridge, Kelly Reichardt - in the same tradition as Steve Lacy, and it are the movies or visual installations by these artists that act as inspiration for the music, even if it is not made to accompany these movies.

One of the most striking features of the sound are the two basses, which lay a great sonic foundation for the music, not rhythmically, but in terms of the overall color of the pieces, acting in concert, or alternately, challenging each other or reinforcing the sound. Yet the entire band is stellar, five musicians who live in their most natural habitat of free flowing sounds, joining the short themes that pop up once in a while, then take off again on different paths but in the same direction.

It's the way I like music, beautifully free, sensitive and deep. (12-26-15)


By Craig Matsumoto on Memory Select  ( )

Larry Ochs — The Fictive Five (Tzadik, 2015)

The track “Similitude” opens with a blast from the two horns in Larry Ochs‘ latest group, the Fictive Five, and the steady blare continues for a good nine minutes. Nate Wooley blares out a trumpet solo made of crisp color and passionate growls, propelled by the rhythm section of drummer Harris Eisenstadt and two basses: Ken Filiano and Pascal Niggenkemper.

That track is the opener to another well-crafted improv album by Ochs, playing with a cast of veterans. But there’s another facet to The Fictive Five: The three major pieces that make up the album are dedicated to filmmakers — Wim Wenders, Kelly Reichardt, and installation artist William Kentridge.

As Ochs explains in his own liner notes (posted on his website and not available with the CD), the dedications reflect his feeling that there’s a visual aspect to the music, a movie of the mind. “I’m inspired to create musical landscapes that the listener when closing her eyes can then imagine her own visual images into, inspired by my music,” he writes. Like a choreographer working without music, Ochs is playing the role of soundtrack composer without a film.

While it’s common for an improvised piece to develop a particular character, what follows in The Fictive Five are well sculpted pieces that do indeed feel like narratives. Ochs is good at this; he’s frequently convened improv groups that work from compositions or skeletal structures that guide the impulses of the moment toward a common goal.

“Similitude” is forceful and bold, evoking a bright energy even as the piece moves to a slower phase in its second half — a bigger-picture view, like a camera panning back, but with plenty of action still playing out.

“By Any Other Name” opens with the groans of arco basses and dark, solemn horn statements. The mood brightens as the group works short passages of small subsets — and eventually, a kind of round-robin forms, with players hopping in and out to form duets and trios of intriguing small sounds. Trumpet and drums take a turn, then there’s a basses-and-drums moment with one bass bowed, the other plucked. It’s a musical game whose pieces fit into a macroscopic novel of music. A fiery group passage lands the piece back in the dark underworld where it began, a satisfying bit of symmetry.

“Translucent,” the Reichardt dedication, has a personality that stands out the most. It starts out choppy and high-strung, with tension surrounded by white space. Ochs abbreviates his sax phrases, a start-stop patter that plays well against Eisenstadt’s forceful snippets of drums. The sound softens as the basses and trumpet come in, building a brisk flow that’s not overwhelming. The final third of the 15-minute piece is a lingering denoument that patiently comes in for a landing. The sound softens as the basses and trumpet come in, building a brisk flow that’s not overwhelming. The final third of the 15-minute piece is a lingering denoument that patiently comes in for a landing.   (5 November15)






Larry Ochs - The Fictive Five - Tzadik / Orkhêstra

— David Cristol February 2016

Free jazz pas mort ! Le fondateur du Rova Saxophone Quartet a quitté sa chère côte Ouest et traversé les Etats-Unis pour former un nouveau quintette avec quelques lumières de l’actuelle (Wooley, Niggenkemper, Eisenstadt) et pérenne (Filiano) avant-garde new yorkaise. Inauguré sur la scène du Stone en 2013, le groupe est entré en studio un an plus tard pour enregistrer cet album, dont l’essentiel consiste en trois suites-hommages. L’artiste sud-africain William Kentridge et les réalisateurs Kelly Reichardt et Wim Wenders sont ainsi honorés par des « compositions pour improvisateurs » (la formule est d’Ochs), mélange d’indications fixées sur le papier, de directions données lors de l’exécution et surtout d’une grande souplesse à même de laisser chacun s’épanouir. Cette liberté organisée vient à représenter la concorde idéale de deux mondes, celui du cadre (échafaudage invisible) et celui du débord. Comme dans les meilleures entreprises du genre, la véhémence n’est que l’une des humeurs convoquées, des passages absorbés participant de l’équilibre de l’ensemble. Sur Similitude et By Any Other Name, l’association des contrebasses (dont celle, préparée, de Pascal Niggenkemper) fait merveille. De fait, chacun exprime la quintessence de sa personnalité sans jamais chercher à se dissocier du propos global. Soit la réalisation d’un certain idéal musical – et sans doute politique, un groupe pouvant être considéré dans ses interactions comme microcosme de la société. 


Free jazz is not dead! The founder of the Rova Saxophone Quartet has left his beloved West Coast and travelled across the United States to form a new quintet with some luminaries of the current (Wooley, Niggenkemper, Eisenstadt) and long-time (Filiano) New York avant-garde. Inaugurated on stage at the Stone in 2013, the band entered the studio a year later to record this album, most of which consists of three suite-tributes. The South African artist William Kentridge and directors Kelly Reichardt and Wim Wenders are thus honored by "compositions for improvisers" (the  forms' title is from Ochs), a mixture of signs and notes attached to paper, cued directions given during the execution, and above all great flexibility enables everyone  to flourish. This freedom is organized to represent the perfect harmony of two worlds, that of the frame (invisible scaffolding) and the overhang. As in the best companies of its kind, the vehemence of some sounds is only one of the intended moods, absorbed passages participant of the balance of the whole. On Similtude and By Any Other Name, the two associated basses (including that prepared by Pascal Niggenkemper) work wonders. Indeed, each expresses the essence of his personality without ever trying to dissociate itself from the overall point. Or the realization of a musical ideal - and without doubt a politic - a group that could be considered in its interactions as a microcosm of society.

Bad Alchemy #89 review of The Fictive Five

— Rigobert Dittman March 2016

Denk ich an LARRY OCHS, denk ich an Berkeley, an die Westcoast, an ROVA und Metalanguage, an Room, Kihnoua, What We Live, Maybe Monday. Wobei Ochs seine Ohren noch weiter nach Westen hin aufspannt, unseren Fernen Osten, für den Klang von Miya Masaoka und Xu Fengxia, aber auch ausgreift nach Osten, wie im asiatisch-französischen East-West-Collective. The Fictive Five (TZ 4012) entstand im legendären East Side Sound-Studio in der Lower East Side, wenn man so will als 'Heimspiel' für Ochs, er ist ja 1949 in New York geboren. Mit einer New Yorker Crew aus Harris Eisenstadt an den Drums, Ken Filiano und Pascal Niggenkemper an Bässen und Nate Wooley an der Trompete, Cracks, die sich untereinander alle gut kennen. Ins Auge fällt gleich auch, dass Ochs, ähnlich wie Steve Lacy und auch schon Ken Vandermark das getan haben, drei der vier Stücke mit Widmungen versehen hat - 'Similitude (for Wim Wenders)' [24:48], 'By Any Other Name (for William Kentridge)' [22:36], 'Translucent (for Kelly Reichardt)' [16:13] - und dass es sich dabei um Filmemacher handelt: Reichardt drehte "Old Joy", "Wendy and Lucy" und "Night Moves", die Animationsfilmkunst des Südafrikaners Kentridge wurde zur Biennale Venedig und zur Documenta eingeladen. Ochs trägt damit, wie auch schon als er mit "The Mirror World" (2005) auf Stan Brakhage Bezug nahm, der Tatsache Rechnung, dass das auf Radio und Schallplatten fixierte Primat des Hörens (wieder) vom Visuellen verdrängt wurde. So dass er seine Musik als 'musical landscapes' anlegt und dazu einlädt, die Augen zu schließen für ein Cimena pour l'oreille, ein Cinema imaginaire. Wobei jeder sehen kann, was er mag, es kommt Ochs nicht auf ein Verstehen an und schon gar nicht, dass einem Sehen und Hören vergeht, sondern dass man aktiv teilnimmt bei der Hochzeit von Freiheit und Form. Ochs' Regie involviert 'coded charts', 'some notation' und 'some visual clues developed with Rova', das kurze 'A Marked Refraction' wurde dazu ganz freihändig hingetüpfelt, hingeflockt. Das mit dem Augenschließen muss man mir nicht zweimal sagen und alles Brimborium fällt sowieso flach, wenn einfach Trompete und Tenorsax feurig zu züngeln beginnen, wenn die Schläge über Blech und Fell hageln und die Kontrabässe rumoren und sägen wie einst bei Bill Dixon, Niggenkemper auch präpariert, Filiano mit Effekten. Wooley brilliert als strahlend klarer Hymniker und als schnarrender, fauchender, wie strangulierter Bruitist, wobei der schnell mal dissonante Zuschliff die Panoramen nur dahingehend aufraut, dass sie die Lebenswelt realer, die Gefühlswelt sinnlicher vermitteln. Mit Feinheiten wie dünnstem Bläserhauch, auch mit windschiefem Sopranino, mit den Fingern getupftem und gezupften Lauten, sämigen Bogenstrichen, gischtig rauschenden Becken. Ochs und Wooley finden beklemmend schöne und berauschende Farb- und Fanfarentöne neben flackernd zuckenden Linien, die intensive Arcotechnik hält den Hitzegrad hoch. 'Translucent' wartet zuletzt noch mit besonders großen Freiheiten und starken Kontrasten auf, als Good, Bad & Ugly-Duell von Tenor, Drums und Trompete, die Bassisten verblüffen mit Plinkplonk, als wären sie ein Herz und eine Seele, Wooley erstaunt mit einem schnarrenden Halteton und schlapprigem Gebrodel. Wie man es auch nennt, rosenfingrig oder feuerzungig, der Ton macht die Musik diese Musik zu einem pracht­vollen Beitrag in Ochsens Diskographie und zu einem gefundenen Fressen für Liebhaber irrwitziger Bassologie. [BA 89 rbd]