Jan 29, 2022 by Ken Weiss

An in-depth set of questions, the answers for which were created off-the-cuff during a long, afternoon rap-session in 2017. Trio CLINE-CLEAVER-OCHS was in the midst of an East coast USA tour at the time. We had raced to Philadelphia that morning to play a noon house concert at a big fan of Nels. No time for breakfast before. Then Ken whisked me away from the post-set «eat and meet» with the attending Nels-Cline-fans; he and I eventually talked for some 3 hours before hooking up with the other 2 guys again — plus the great Marshall Allen — for a quartet improvisation in Philly that night.  Therefore, I felt some need to clarify many of my comments via email after getting home. Some excerpts below. Click here to check it out in full

“With improvised music, if you start planning in advance where the music is going to go, it will never get there; it will never develop in the way you wanted it to. You just have to be a receptor and then react. You have to hear the context, be in the context, and then at the same time, be ready and willing to choose your role in the context of what’s happening, rather than forcing your ideas on the music.”


“I’ll try a couple of different ways to amplify on that statement. First, “mystery” is an important part of art making. I’m not a fan of making music easier to listen to by verbal introductions to it. I  prefer that one gets thrown in the water, and learns to swim that way. Of course that can lead to incidents like the one that happened to me in Spain in 2010 when a patron at a Sax & Drumming Core concert actually went to the  local police because my music was causing him serious stress. But for me, if there comes a time when I completely understand the music, then it’s not that interesting any more. Once there’s no surprises involved, it’s lost the edge that keeps me interested in playing it. As a result, a band like Rova has to keep creating new pieces with refreshed structures for improvisation, in order to keep evolving, to stay interested. Now one does create similar pieces, but these similar pieces add new wrinkles/problems to stimulate / to solve. So complete understanding is put off; the mystery is reinvigorated. And experience both personal and musical really matters to the greater music.”


“Perhaps it’s better to say that, (while in the USSR on tour in 1983) when our suspicions grew to the point of true paranoia, and we were sure that our hotel phones were tapped and that we were being watched, and yet we, nevertheless, were doing things that we had been told would get the local people in trouble, at that point we did start wondering if we weren’t being really irresponsible to be hanging out with them.”