Jones Jones / The Moscow Improvisations

Mark Dresser, Bass / Vladimir Tarasov, Percussion / Larry Ochs, Sopranino and Tenor Saxophones


Mark Dresser (double bass) / Larry Ochs (tenor & sopranino saxophones) /Vladimir Tarasov (percussion).

Track Listing: 1. Ionization Jones  (11:51) / 2. Perpetuo Mojo Jones (4:24) / 3. Jones Tolstoyevich Jones (20:17) / 4. Jonesnost (5:07) / 5. Dialectical Jones (9:55)

Released April 2016. Recorded September 24, 2009, live in Manege Hall at Theater “School of Dramatic Art,” Moscow, Russia. Recording and Mixdown by Andrey Zachesov. Mastering by Myles Boisen at Headless Buddha Lab in Oakland, California. Produced by Lawrence Ochs and Andrey Zachesov. Musicians’ special thanks to Alexey Malobrodsky and Tanya Lukyanova. Photos by Nataly Cheban. Cover art and Design by Doug Hall. All music © Dresser, Ochs, Tarasov / Trobar/ASCAP/ LATGA administered by BMG-Chrysalis. 

Recorded live in Moscow during the 2010 Moscow Biennale of the Arts; that festival featured a Vladimir Tarasov retrospective focusing exclusively on Tarasov’s installation art. In conjunction with the exhibit, Moscow Biennale invited Jones Jones members Ochs and Dresser to fly to Moscow for one special concert to occur concurrently with the Biennale. This CD, finally being released in 2016,  was recorded in stereo in the special hall given over for this concert.

Three long time masters of the improvised music world team up here, as always,  for inspiring forays into the world of creative improvised-music. The trio first performed as a unit in 2006 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the concert was very special. It consisted of collective, leaderless, sound-explorations among three musicians whose ability to listen and respond shone forth during the concert. Their modus operandi has never changed; they get together annually for a few concerts stretching from California to New York to Europe and Russia.

Performing entirely improvised music, Jones Jones’ musical performances draw on all the individual musicians’ past experiences, and that somehow adds up, not necessarily to “more than the sum of the parts,” but definitely to something unique and very special that could only have happened within this particular trio configuration. The band performed in June/July 2008 in Amsterdam and St Petersburg, plus festivals in Lithuania and Latvia. Jones Jones also was featured at The 2008 Festival Of New American Music in Sacramento, California. A first live-CD release, the music taken from  recordings in St. Petersburg and Amsterdam concerts, is called “We All Feel the Same Way,” It was  released by the Moscow label “SoLyd Records” in September 2009.


Jones Jones - The Moscow Improvisations

‘Supergroup’ is old rock music terminology. I know no one in Jones Jones thinks of themselves in those terms. Nevertheless, each one of these musicians has been involved in critical groundbreaking music in important ensembles outside of double Jones. The interesting thing is if you mention the classic Anthony Braxton Quartet (Braxton, Crispell, Dresser, Hemingway), the Rova Saxophone Quartet (Ochs, Ackley, Raskin, Voight) or the Ganelin Trio (Ganelin, Tarasov, Chekasin), despite the game-changing music produced by each of these bands, there’s no guarantee that people today will make the connection. Pity, I can’t stress enough just how groundbreaking those three early 1980’s strands of history are to the development of the post-new wave of avant garde jazz today. Dresser, Ochs and Tarasov, otherwise known as 'Jones Jones', are no throw-back to past glories. They inhabit our millennium as contemporary Global nomads. They each have homes, they chose to travel.

The Moscow Improvisations was recorded in September 2009 but only released almost exactly a year ago. Neither the band nor the album has a mighty publicity machine behind them, not even a slightly mighty publicity machine. Sometimes you just have to keep going. (It’s worth noting that the Rova Saxophone Quartet have been doing that for 40 years with only one personnel change.) For a variety of reasons I couldn’t get hold of a copy of The Moscow Improvisations recording until recently one fell into my lap. Since then I’ve been plugged-in on a daily basis. When the ‘keep going’ gets this good I have no choice other than to write about the result. 

There is something about Vladmir Tarasov. He is a drummer with tremendous spread. Listen to him and he seems to stretch across a distance of intuitive percussive possibilities, always landing on the right spot for exactly the right reason. Yes, he’s about time and the rhythmic nudge. Yes, he can ratchet up the dynamic to almost feral proportions yet never lose control. But most of all it is his entire soundboard. He can allocate each drum, cymbal and bell its own bespoke tonal circumference. His cymbal bowing has awesome tonal accuracy. The ultra-high notes of double bass and bowed percussion sing in unison. Later on, during the track, Jonesnost, the acoustic frequencies pitch into electricity though there are no wires, no Bluetooth, just the height of sound.

On the opening track, Ionization Jones, Tarasov and Dresser engage in non-verbal conversation. This is not anything like a drum/bass rap. Instead it is an extraordinary aural transaction which could be described as orchestral were it not for the difficulty in believing it could be so. Larry Ochs doesn’t enter until about 3.25

minutes. The first time I heard Ionization Jones I got a shock when I suddenly heard his horn emerge. I had been so absorbed in what Mr Dresser and Mr Tarasov were creating that I had missed Mr Ochs (and he’s a saxophonist with definite presence). Once in the mix the squeezed sopranino leans on the ears as if offering a map as to where the other two members of Jones Jones are taking the ears. On occasions this is a string quartet metamorphosed into an improvising trio – strung out on a double bass, an entire percussion section configured by a single soloist and a reeds maestro for whom ‘blowing’ is only part of his art (Larry Ochs is a recognised painter, but that’s not what I’m referring to). Together they roll notes and time, roll sound into a ball of string wound loosely around a world owned by all – or no one. It’s simply all there to be heard.

But this foray into the art of sophisticated improv is by no means the full story. When the gate is opened on Perpetuo Mojo Jones there is Tarasov’s ride cymbal pinging 6’s and 7’s, leaving room for Larry Ochs’ tenor sax to come straight through eager as space travel. Mark Dresser and Vladimir Tarasov become wrapped up in the same movement. It is almost as if there is an air pocket bursting among them. The trio groan as a ripple from a gong burst. Credit for part of the force of the momentum has to go to Mark Dresser. He is a truly exceptional improviser and a catalyst, able to provide a complete breakdown of the double bass; all the component parts spiriting the muse of his protagonists. His instrument speaks wood and wire through many languages. Mr Dresser becomes interpreter, impersonator and real-time sound manipulator; a diviner of scales, a crack in the aural ceiling. And whereas Ionization gave forth a huge abstracted rationale for detailed dialogue, in contrast Perpetuo Mojo has the ‘big violin’ on a pizzicato springboard. It literally extends forward as if from a great height. All these tracks are ‘live’ but the sound quality is crystal clear. Perpetuo Mojo is under five minutes in length, as near as this trio get to Ochs being ‘allowed’ the role of a tenor giant, but it’s not like that, not really. Dresser and Tarasov ascend over this perpetual motion providing the second and third equal parts to the whole piece. Right now, that’s how I hear it. 

The Moscow Improvisations has a central performance. Right in the middle there is Jones Tolstoyevitch Jones, a twenty minute stretch of continuous improv, double the length of Ionization, or for that matter the final

track Dialectical Jones. It is actually timeless. Leo Tolstoy’s zeitgeist novel, War And Peace is a tome by virtue of its character-driven narrative placed into the detailed ethics of consequence and history. And so the Tolstoyevitch improv of the Jones Jones album is begun by Larry Och’s focused probing tenor, only to be detoured by his compatriots. Such discoveries are spread out in three directions until finally ending back with Och’s horn settling old scores into a new one. But as with the whole of The Moscow Improvisations, no one musician can be said to act alone. Even when Mr Dresser or Mr Tarasov take off independently, producing huge individual soundscapes out of trio-activity there is always the sense of it being grafted onto the mythic ‘Jones’, this character they share in common. Jones Jones is a ‘sound’ identity carrying a three-way creative musical passport which they improvise across borders. They travel the distance, the name not only present in the tracks of their titles, but also in each ‘collective’ performance.

The Moscow Improvisations deserves recognition for what it is, a landmark recording. Sure, there are loads of words that could be written on the connection between these two radical Americans and the ex-drummer of a legendary Russian (Lithuanian) trio who in their own way contributed to breaking down walls between East and West. At a time when so many people seem prepared to build barriers it is significant that Jones Jones, specialists in bridge building, are Anglo-American/Russian. They are their own Diaspora, yet what we have here is a performance which goes beyond even that. In my view it is another giant step forward. Music like this is today and tomorrow. Mark Dresser, Larry Ochs, Vladimir Tarasov are aural architects who play out the harmonies in the world’s dissonance – here is the articulated evidence. I know, it’s a lot of words, but I mean them.