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Steve Lacy's 'Saxophone Special' Revisited .​.​.​with special guests Kyle Bruckmann and Henry Kaiser! 2017

by Rova Saxophone Quartet

  • Compact Disc (CD) + Digital Album

    Steve Lacy’s mid-1970s innovations helped shape improvised music for decades. His 1974 live recording “Saxophone Special” lit up the ears of the soon-to-be Rovas and sparked our imaginations during the band’s earliest days. This CD says thanks and pays tribute to one of the band’s mentors and greatest inspirations. Musicians on this CD are Rova 4tet plus the great guitarist Henry Kaiser and master synths player Kyle Bruckmann.

    NOTE: This Bandcamp Site ONLY can sell the physical CD. DIGITAL ALBUM NOT AVAILABLE here.

    A review from DOWNBEAT by Ed Enright:
    Rova Saxophone Quartet reinvents a classic recording by the late soprano saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy (1934–2004) on Saxophone Special Revisited. Lacy’s 1975 album Saxophone Special, culled from December 1974 performances at London’s Wigmore Hall, was a seminal entry into the pantheon of free-jazz works for saxophone quartet. It featured Lacy, Steve Potts, Trevor Watts and Evan Parker on multiple saxophones—plus guitarist Derek Bailey and synthesist Michel Waisvisz—bravely executing a suite of the leader’s densely arranged compositions that required them to dive head-first into extended group improvisations. The album—which was contemporaneous with Anthony Braxton’s saxophone quartet recording on New York, Fall 1974 and predated any works by the World Saxophone Quartet—was an inspiration to the members of Rova, who came together as a group in late 1977 (and whose personnel has remained the same, with one exception, ever since). A group known for its unique ability to synthesize modern composition with collective improvisation, not to mention its appetite for advanced techniques and raw adventure, Rova has performed its own arrangements of Lacy’s now-famous suite live on several occasions over the years. The quartet of saxophonists Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs and Jon Rasking is supplemented by guitarist Henry Kaiser and synthesist Kyle Bruckmann on Saxophone Special Revisited, which was recorded in September 2015 at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California. Although Rova’s interpretation is obviously not an attempt to re-create all the nuances of the original recording, the ensemble succeeds in achieving the same chiming tonality that Lacy strove for in his dissonant, cycling arrangements. In this context, with obvious reverence, Rova and company sculpt brilliant improvisations of melody and noise that are honest to the core and utterly free of restraint. This is thrilling, cathartic stuff. Two bonus tracks, “Clichés” and “Sidelines,” feature Rova’s spirited take on compositions Lacy recorded after the release of Saxophone Special.

    Rova Saxophone Quartet w/ Kyle Bruckmann and Henry Kaiser — Steve Lacy’s Saxophone Special Revisited (Clean Feed)

    "Leave it to Rova Saxophone Quartet to dream up a reinvention of Steve Lacy’s 1974 album Saxophone Special. They’ve grappled with this sort of thing with their acoustic and electric takes on John Coltrane’s Ascension, not exactly the go-to piece in Coltrane’s canon. But this project stands out even in Lacy’s body of work. In the liner notes to the reissue of Lacy’s recording, producer Martin Davidson recounts that upon hearing Lacy’s over-dubbed solo LP Lapis, “This gave me the idea, early in 1974, to suggest to him that it would be interesting to hear similar music involving other distinctive soprano saxophonists. Between us we came up with Evan Parker, Steve Potts and Trevor Watts. In addition, Lacy suggested what he called a ‘noise section’ of Derek Bailey and Michel Waisvisz.”

    For the concert at Wigmore Hall in London, there was a quick afternoon rehearsal and two evening sets. But the group would never convene again and some of the pieces from the program never showed up in Lacy’s subsequent ongoing repertoire. Even so, the program and resulting recording left an indelible mark on those who heard it. By now, the idea of a convening a saxophone quartet is hardly a radical conceit, but in 1974, there were few precedents. Anthony Braxton had recorded a piece with Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, and Hamiet Bluiett on New York, Fall, 1974 but it took a few years more before Rova, World Saxophone Quartet, and others seized on the format.

    Rova captures the overall forms of the pieces and the general instrumentation, calling in long-time collaborator Henry Kaiser on guitar and Kyle Bruckmann on analog synth. But, as always with their music, they absorb the framework and the intent of the music rather than plying a reparatory recreation. In Brian Morton’s notes, he recalls an interview he did with Lacy for the BBC. The reed player talked about how his music at the time was “pretty much all in seconds, these supposedly no-good intervals which you are supposed to avoid, but I found that if you placed them right and held your nerve, you got amazing results… chiming sounds, really beautiful.” The Rova crew jump on that, fully absorbing the original arrangements, then taking off from the themes and singular voicings and overlaying their singular approach.
    Take a piece like “Dreams.” The cry of synth intertwined with the crisscross network of saxophones open both the original and the new take. But where the theme is introduced early on in the original, the new version incorporates a skirling hive of overtones over Kaiser’s darkly resonant chords teetering on the edge of feedback and Bruckmann’s quavering, high-pitched, crying synth. It isn’t until almost a third of the way in that the theme is introduced, and even then, it is toyed with, repeated and refracted and then dropped for an expansive timbral collective abstraction. They bring it all to a commanding close, looping the theme back in with vigorous resolve. “Swishes,” a tune that Lacy only recorded once, starts with Raskin’s bari, Kaiser’s flayed dry chords, and Bruckmann’s rippling synth circling toward the insistent theme voiced by the other three reed players, which is then refracted into fissured collective improvisation. Here, though, one misses the contrapuntal clarity of the original (with a rare appearance of Evan Parker on baritone anchoring the proceedings).

    Like on the original recording, “Sops” is the only piece that features just the sax quartet. Lacy’s version was voiced for four sopranos but Rova switches that out for soprano and sopranino saxes for a more strident sound. Here, they achieve a transparency, with open lines by each of the players overlapping with kaleidoscopic volatility. Their take on “Snaps” trades synth crackles for the original snapped fingers for the opening and then erupts with scrabbled guitar, spattered oscillations and careening sax lines propelled with torrential fervor, providing one of the highlights of the recording. Rova fleshes out the release with readings of two Lacy tunes that weren’t part of the original. “Clichés” and “Sidelines,” each accentuate the songlike qualities of Lacy’s music while taking advantage of the abraded timbres of the extended group. “Clichés” is a particular standout here, with a shredded guitar solo woven in to the adeptly-voiced horns. Rova has always incorporated work by composers like Lacy, Fred Frith, John Zorn and Alvin Curran into their repertoire, inhabiting the work with their distinct collective approach. But these dives in to seminal recordings have proven to kindle particularly stimulating results.

    Includes unlimited streaming of Steve Lacy's 'Saxophone Special' Revisited ...with special guests Kyle Bruckmann and Henry Kaiser! 2017 via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
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  • Streaming + Download

    Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.

    DIGITAL ALBUM (aka downloads) IS NOT AVAILABLE FROM THIS WEBSITE. Rova does not have the rights to provide that. Check CLEAN FEED website. We ONLY sell the physical CD from this website.
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      $999 USD  or more




released May 20, 2017


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Rova Saxophone Quartet San Francisco, California

Rova: a group that can move you the way an Eastern European choir of voices can move you, but also a group with force that can feel as if its tearing the walls of the listening space down, or one of nature’s wild phenomena, or conversely, the almost-silent overlapping sound-patterns heard with eyes closed in a field in the wilderness. Since 1978, dealing it, and surprising listeners worldwide. ... more

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