Music Reviews

Rova Saxophone Quartet

As Was


This brings back memories for me. The Rova Saxophone Quartet was one of the first free jazz ensembles I was ever exposed to. I do mean “exposed,” too. In college, my friend Jon Ross would go out of his way to find the most irritating things he could find and then play them to the people they would annoy most. Jon was particularly fond of springing an early Rova album on me while in altered states of consciousness. Jon would laugh fiendishly as I recoiled from the blasting assault of squealing horns. Oh, the good old days.

I have no idea if Jon played As Was at me back in the day. The original Metalanguage release came out in 1981, which is the right time frame for my days at Michigan State. Twenty years down the line, Rova is still a bit of an acquired taste. I can still hear the aggressive squall that freaked me out as an undergrad. I’m much more in tune with what the quartet is doing now. I now hear “Daredevils” as a demented circus march. “Under the Street Where You Live” is structured around Larry Ochs tenor with the other members playing off and around his lead. Likewise, “Escape from Zero Village” has composed sections which bookend the improvised passages. As Was is still a wild ride. If I were to play this to a 20-year-old rock fan today, they’d probably be freaked out by it, too. Then again, getting freaked out by things is a good way of expanding your horizons. If Jon Ross hadn’t terrorized me with Rova in 1981, who knows if I’d be writing about them in 2001?

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