Nels Cline – Gerald Cleaver – Larry Ochs / What is to be done


1. Outcries Rousing    (21:22)

2. A Pause, A Rose    (6:04)

3. Shimmer   Intend   Spark   Groove   Defend    (20:30)

All three pieces collectively created by the trio: Gerald Cleaver (Gerald Cleaver Music; SESAC), Nels Cline (Nebsonic Music/ASCAP/admin. BMG) and Larry Ochs (Trobar/ASCAP/admin. BMG)


Recorded December 9, 2016 in Richmond, Virginia

From the label, CLEAN FEED:

           The most fulfilling encounters are also the most improbable ones – those we never imagined possible, either due to the many miles separating the circuits usually frequented by the individual participants in a music project or to the aesthetic differences they have. The trio with Gerald Cleaver, Nels Cline and Larry Ochs is one of those cases and the pieces inside “What is to Be Done” reflect entirely that condition. As Stuart Broomer’s liner notes point out, this music «enjoys the simultaneous qualities of nearness and distance: three musicians in a room, each stretching to the limits of one another’s material for some new richness, some sonic confluence unknown."
          With a Detroit background defining his personal style, Cleaver is a drummer of first choice by many of the greatest in creative jazz, from Henry Threadgill and Roscoe Mitchell to Craig Taborn and Ellery Eskelin.
             Considered (by the magazine Rolling Stone) one of the top 100 guitarists of all time, Nels Cline is either busy in the rock field, with the band Wilco, or appearing in more experimental contexts, like the one of “Nels Cline Singers”.
              Ochs is one of the main figures of the music created in the fissures between exploratory jazz and contemporary classical music, with Rova Saxophone Quartet, Maybe Monday, The Fictive Five or Sax & Drumming Core.
               Each one of the three has his remarkable life story, together they’re making history.


Gerald Cleaver / Nels Cline / Larry Ochs - What Is To Be Done (Clean Feed, 2019)

— Tim Niland February 2019

Gerald Cleaver / Nels Cline / Larry Ochs - What Is To Be Done (Clean Feed, 2019)
Posted by Tim Niland (

A trio of three of the most imaginative and in-demand improvisers currently playing, Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino saxophones, Nels Cline on electric guitar and effects and Gerald Cleaver on drums deliver an astonishingly colorful and satisfying album which was recorded in Richmond, Virginia in December of 2016. The epic "Outcries Rousing" opens the program gradually gathering form and pace with drums and saxophone lending their voices to the formation of the track, with Ochs' sounding raw and immediate and Cleaver's drumming is crisp and true. Cline joins the action, adding accents at first, then becoming enmeshed in the collective interplay. He uses his pedals and effects very well adding interesting colors and textures to the music, before pushing forth with rending chords against primal drumbeats which take the performance in another slightly unnerving direction. Ochs rejoins and the group becomes an all encompassing sound beast, with massive slabs of overdriven guitar, ripe saxophone and hammering percussion, their collective improvisation takes things to a stratospheric level that overwhelms the senses in an ecstatic way. Cline and Cleaver develop an interplay of buzzing, whirling wonder with brilliant percussion to keep the momentum going, slipping the Earth's gravity to enter the cosmos. Ochs provides the afterburner as their performance reaches extraordinary heights beyond my ability to describe them, then during the last few minutes of the performance the band powers down and glides peacefully off into the void. The shorter track "A Pause, A Rose" gives the group and the audience a much needed respite between epiphanies, as it is a spacey and graceful improvisation that uses some wonderful electronic manipulation from Cline, and gentle flutters of saxophone and percussion. "Shimmer Intend Spark Groove Defend" is the final epic on the album and it nearly eclipses the first piece in power and majesty, with tight drumming and saxophone playing framed by spikes of guitar. They build their improvisation slowly and confidently, as the volume and speed of music rises with stark calls of saxophone and passionate drumming and guitar leaving a shower of sparks in its wake, with Cline using massive grinding sounds and gales of electronic pedal work. When they come together as a whole though, the power and authority that they have over their music is unmatched. Ochs' sopranino saxophone adds a exotic and fascinating tone to the music, when played off against an explosion of colorful electric guitar and percussion the effect is nearly overwhelming. This group is a true collective, the respect they have for the music and for each other and for the music makes this one of the best discs of this young year, and an absolute lifeline amid the chaos.


— Filipe Freitas (Jazz Trail blog) February 2019

If you want to figure out how music can be so ferocious and intimate at the same time, you should try What Is To Be Done, a compulsory trio record featuring saxophonist Larry Ochs, guitarist Nels Cline, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The album brings a special motivation since it marks the 500th release of the Lisbon-based avant-jazz imprint Clean Feed.

The three musicians have been gigging together for quite some time but never had released a recording before as a group. Saxophonist and guitarist were temporary partners in the Rova’s Electric Ascension bands, while Cleaver records with Cline for the first time, taking the opportunity to tighten the musical bond with Ochs after their duo album Songs of the Wild Cave (RogueArt, 2018).

They let the music breathe in the introductory section of the mercurial “Outcries Rousing”, where we hear elongated, electrified guitar chords sustaining a bashful saxophone. Moments later, Ochs wallows in a rasping rumpus with just Cleaver’s magnetic backbeat underneath. Even when Cline joins again, causing a darned detonation of acid-rock and proto-funk, the musicians find their own space, stretching their imagination to reinforce the collective’s integrity. A rare dark atmospheric passage seems to motivate Cline to subvert the sonic milieu. He dishes out twangy, spasmodically electro strokes synced with methodical percussive thumps. This segment evolves into an avalanche of sound created by continual noise guitar, fraught and resilient saxophone trajectories delineated with dark tones, and the catchy, athletic pulses from Cleaver. He is a fantastic rhythm sculptor, who also excels in the following structural block marked by prog-rock invention and electronica slipperiness. Running over 20 minutes, there’s a lot going on here, and the trio even stops by power-metal territories before Ochs detours toward East, throwing in sumptuous, Arabic-flavored phrases.

“A Pause, a Rose” is initially tinged with folk influences, affected by cascades of draggy electronic effects, and ultimately buoyed up by a lovely, fragmented trippy rhythm that produces glorious results with the guitar and soprano sax atop.

Like the opening track, “Shimmer Intend Spark Groove Defend” goes above 20 minutes, relying on the intense capacity of communication between the trio members, who work from many different angles. Exhibiting seamless transitions while pummeling with impressive force, this track includes relentless primitive rhythms, eerie drones, agonizing groans and spiraling phrases on the saxophone, and a variety of guitar textures comprising serene loopy vibes, loud spiky liberations, grungy tautness, and psych-rock stabs.

This is a tiny treasure of a disc, where you find no subterfuges and every section becomes a fresh discovery.

Grade A

Filipe Freitas on JAZZ-TRAIL (


What is to be Done (Clean Feed)

The three improvisations on this disc were taken from sessions recorded in 2016 in Richmond, Virginia. The three musicians each bring a distinct voice to the table, but the blend is organically coherent with very satisfying layers of sound in a free but thoughtfully structured improvisational approach. The players play to the compositions with Olympian chops that serve the group concept in startling ways.  

“Outcries Rousing" is the 20-minute opening piece of the triptych that maintains a rhythmic insistence throughout, marching ever forward on a taut regime of Gerald Cleaver's tom-tom-heavy persistence over which Larry Och's saxophone's squiggles and smears and blasts find a happy open sea. Nels Cline's guitar fills in the canvas with a broad wash of chords thrummed in an evolving manner, building and receding like waves along a pebbled beach. Cline also works in some fascinating angular lines made up of complex intervallic shapes and size, along with some electronic effects that include deconstruction of guitar clichés and really cool otherworldly digital throughput configurations.

The quieter, more acoustic middle tune, "A Pause, A Rose" grows from an acoustic-meets-electronics opening lyrical passage articulated by Cline, with ever surprising guitar sounds. Post-modern to the hilt, Cline's playing is discontinuous pastiche, with fragmented logic and an ever-attentive sense of the rightness of the musical effect-of-the-moment, while drums and sax send out their particular strands of sonic material in sympathetically coordinated musical expression. The trick with this kind of music is to think like a composer, not an instrumental soloist, per se; it's about the musical meaning and form. These three musicians show a particularly gifted approach to this, with playing that is tuned in and expressive.

The epic final piece of the triptych, "Shimmer Intend Spark Groove Defend", sounds as imperative and anthem-like as its title suggests, with bold and purposeful direction and development of musical thought that seems predestined, as if the three players were all of one mind, heart and body, making for definitely fine improvised music.


What Is To Be Done

Larry Ochs + Nels Cline + Gerald Cleaver
What is to be Done
Clean Feed CF500CD

If there’s one take away from Larry Ochs, Nels Cline, and Gerald Cleaver’s What is to be Done, it’s that the trio’s audience gets their money’s worth. Recorded live in Richmond, Virginia, in 2016, the album is a rousing masterclass in freewheeling improvisation performed by a group that gets after it as soon as the first note drops.

For whatever reason, a lot of free improvisers seem to be allergic to tempo and meter, often to their detriment. But not these three. Within thirty seconds of the opening track, “Outcries Rousing,” Cleaver lays down a heavy, straight eighth note, lumbering groove, which Ochs weaves his tenor through. Each performance is a succession of different episodes with their own character that come to life often at the moment when a player changes direction, prompting his mates to follow suit. Four minutes in to “Outcries Rousing” Cleaver slows out of his groove, Cline turns on his suite of electronic effects, and things start getting weird. Later, Cline goes into full avant rock guitar hero mode backed by Cleaver’s furious rock drumming. Upon Cleaver’s departure Cline gets fuzzy, a squawking Ochs enters, and it’s not long before Cleaver is at it again, pounding away. The succession of episodes unfolds organically, with each morphing into the next. It’s free improv storytelling at its most compelling.

The middle track, “A Pause, A Rose,” serves as a brief bridge between the longer opening and closing pieces. It shows both the promises and risks of free improvisation. There are plenty of ideas – from Cline’s balladic opening phrase which he then sends through effects to Ochs’ trills, tremolos, and flutter tonguing, but none of them seem to take hold long enough to inspire further investigation. As a stand-alone piece, it’s an instance where the sum is less than the whole of its parts. In the context of the album, however, it functions as an ideal narrative device that links the longer, developed, and sustained performances.

On the final piece, “Shimmer Intend Spark Groove Defend,” the trio continues on the same path. Cleaver and Ochs, this time on sopranino, slowly build. One gets the feeling that as the music gets louder and busier in a patient and measured fashion, that we’re headed into the obligatory free jazz blowout. Just as it seems as the moment arrives the trio teases us, taking us somewhere unexpected – it’s down through the Nels Cline looking glass spurred on by thudding toms and tenor sax filigrees, and it’s on to new lands. Does free improv get any better than that?