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October 05, 1992 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1992-10-05

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Monday, October 5, 1992

Page 5

Rova Quartet roams toward a saxy, squonky home

by Chris Wyrod
After 15 years of bouncing
squonks and pops off of each other
and tangling themselves in compos-
ite melodies, the Rova Saxophone
Quartet has finally headed for Ann
Arbor. Although they have per-
formed hundreds of concerts in the
U.S. and acted as agents of sax
diplomacy in over 20 European
tours, Ann Arbor residents have
never felt the impact of a live Rova
... until now.
Tenuously assembled for a single
1977 performance at Mills College
in Oakland, California, Rova real-
ized a challenging yet approachable
style that created an exciting dy-
namic. A dozen or so recordings
later, Rova continues to collectively
create innovative pieces for the still
green genre of saxophone quartet
music.
Although Rova has its predeces-
sors, as well as contemporaries, who
created collective quartet sax-scapes,
Rova's intense interaction results in
a unique and personal synthesis.
Unlike groups such as the World
Saxophone Quartet, Rova is less a
collection of stellar individual per-
sonalities than an interwoven unit.
Each member continually reshapes
the flexible, amorphous boundaries
of the whole.
The members of the quartet seem
to demonstrate a deep understanding
of systems theory by immersing
themselves in a collaborative musi-
cal process whose aggregate product
is much larger than the sum of its
parts. Obviously, the skill needed to
execute the fine points of this music
is immense; yet, it seems that the
members must also understand each
other personally to achieve such
fluidity and stilted accuracy.
Ann Arbor native Steve Adams is
the newest member of the quartet,
replacing Andrew Voigt in 1988.
Yet, oddly, he expressed little diffi-
culty adapting to this intense inter-
action: "... I had been at that point
playing in a sax quartet (Your
Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet)
for eight years and was familiar with
Rova's music ... (I was) aware of
what they were up to and saw them
whenever they cane to Boston.
There were certainly things to learn;

there was a lot of music they threw
at me when I first joined ... I feel
like it was something that I was re-
ally ready to do at thaupoint."
In 1983, Rova avant-bopped
themselves into the annals of history
as the first new music group from
the U.S. to tour the Soviet Union.
Adams joined the quartet as they
prepared for their second infiltration
of the Soviet block in 1989, where
they were met with appreciative au-
diences: "Oh yeah, it was a great ex-
perience. It's a strange country in
many ways ... great people, com-
pletely stupid government," he said.
During the past 30 years of Eu-
ropean restructured jazz develop-

ment, there have been rumors of im-
prisonment of Soviet free jazz per-
formers. I asked Adams if he
thought the Soviet hegemony stifled
musical freedom in that country, or
instead encouraged radical, revolu-
tionary music through opposition: "I
think it did more to stifle it than to,
encourage it, though there were cer-
tainly some people who were willing
to face the dangers of doing some-
thing that was receiving that sort of
official disapproval. There was some
amazing stuff being done there, even
in the Brezhnev era," he said.
The Ganelin Trio have fought
their government's suppression of
creativity with years of wacky, chal-

lenging improvisation. Although
Rova has played with members of
the Ganelin Trio both stateside and
in the USSR, Adams felt Rova (lid
not share the Trio's sinisterly comic
nature: "I would say there's less
humor in the stuff Rova does,
though it's not completely devoid of
humor," he said. Rova's humor is
often subtle and implicit, with
inverted titles like "The Un-
questioned Answer" responding to
Charles Ives' "The Unanswered
Question," and their mischievous
subterranean subversion of "On the
Street Where You Live" to "Under
the Street Where You Live."
While many contemporary jazz

performers have gained the spotlight
by containing and subduing the
boisterous freedom of the late '60s
to "continue the tradition" of jazz,
an entire other outgrowth of jazz is
being ignored. Musicians such as
Anthony Braxton and Rova have
also learned from the explorations of
Coltrane, but blend these new voic-
ings with the pragmatism of 20th
century composers.
The result is an ordered chaos, an
intermingling of freedom and for-
mality, where discord and sudden
harmonies merge in a full and intu-
itively ordered permission (to steal a
phrase from the liner notes to Rova's
"As Was"). Just a glance at the

compositions by Steve Lacy, Fred
Frith, Alvin Curran, John Carter and
dedications to Albert Ayler, Olivier
Messiaen and Otis Redding reveal
Rova's varied influences. Further-
more, Steve Adams' first composi-
tion for the quartet is "K124" on
"Long on Logic," inspired by a
Kandinsky painting, furthering their
music to visualization and sculpting
of space.
Since Rova had performed with
Anthony Braxton and interpreted hiP
compositions, I tried to tease out
Adams' kinship with Braxton:
"We've done some work with him
and he's just a wonderful, warm,
humorous human being," he said.
Although Anthony Braxton is
often misrepresented as a stiff jazz
performer, his musical aesthetics are
more closely allied with 20th cen-
tury classical experimentations.
Rova also struggles with the con-
fines of jazz/classical rubrics:
"Those pigeonholes are very tough
for us to deal with, definitely, be-
cause, like Anthony, we are people
who are very interested in twentieth
century classical music... But, again
like Anthony, we are also people
who are very interested in the im-
provised music tradition and things
that are called 'jazz.' So were trying
to combine those two worlds in
some way, but it puts you in this
funny, nameless region somewhere
in between, and the purists of both
camps tend to attack you," he said.
The Quartet's "That's How
Strong" is dedicated in part to "those
artists who have held their own vi-
sion, restricting temptation to popu-
larize their art under the guise of
'communication with the people."'
After 15 years and a change in pepr
sonnel, Rova continues to defy cate-
gorization through formal fecundity
and planned improvisation. Every-
thing said, Rova's music can't be
described accurately. The experience
is in the hearing.
THE ROVA SAXOPHONE QUAR-
TET will play tonight at 8 p.m. at the
Performance Network. Tickets are
$15 at the door or in advance at
Schoolkids Records.

The Rova Saxophone Quartet (left to right: Jon Rasin, Larry Ochs, Bruce Ackley and Steve Adams) have created sax-scapes in over 20 countries.

Ypsi playwright lets
everyone be a critic
by Melissa Rose Bernardo
In the cultural mecca of Ann Arbor, many experimental and avant-
garde productions flash across the numerous theater stages. Many are re-
membered well, many are thought of once in a while, and many are for-
gotten completely. But enter one play still wet with the ink of the word
processor on which it was written. Ypsilanti playwright Thomas Kraw-
ford, Jr. has given us his play, "Rhyme of a Raven Thyme Dancer" for a
sneak preview even before it has been rehearsed.
The Serpent's Tooth Theatre works with the Playwright Support
Group of Ann Arbor "to give pie-in-the-sky playwrights a working per-
spective," says Serpent's Tooth dramaturg/literary manager Kenn Pierson.
A play is workshopped with the playwright, three working actors, a work-
ing director and dramaturg Pierson, all of whom determine if a play has
practical problems.
Krawford enthusiastically describes the workshopping process as a
"fertile breeding ground for ideas, concepts, and ways of approaches." He
feels that he has matured along with his play, and still has a lot of ideas he
wants to develop. The goal of the workshop, according to Pierson and
Krawford, is to peel away all the layers of the onion - that is, the play -
to get to the core.
"Rhyme of a Raven Thyme Dancer" was inspired by a conglomeration
of different sources, playwright Krawford explains. Krawford was dissat-
isfied with the options for the Black male actor, so he decided to do
something that would "break down barriers." He describes the story as a
love story combined with international intrigue.
An espionage field man, Alex Hall (Sherman Johnson), is sent to as-
sassinate Anna Cluadi (Leisa Pulido), a young, educated foreign woman
in the ruling class. Hall and a team are working for HYDRA, a futuristic,
science-fictional organization with no scruples. A passionate relationship
develops between Hall and Cluadi, while at the same time a conflict de-
velops between Hall and his team, thus upsetting HYDRA's plan to con-
trol whole cultures. Krawford says that the story is a combination of
"myth, love, the mythic power of love, and how it enriches the spirit."
When asked about the message of the play, Krawford refers to the
multi-dimensionality of the issues he treats. He tries to dispel what he
calls "the myth of the Black man." He lists his greatest influence as 20th
century Nigerian playwright, Wole Soyinka. Soyinka also tries to break
down the myths and stereotypes about a culture.
Krawford explains that he sees no large difference between cultures;
rather, he sees an interdependence because of people's different back-
grounds. Take the "myth" or misconception of racism - Krawford wants
to treat racism not as an entity, but as something that affects other areas of
a person's life and comes from different places in each person.
At the time of the reading, the actors will have just a few hours of re-
hearsal behind them and none of the script memorized. For the true test,
the audience will be given a chance to express their own thoughts and

Master Musicians of
Jaj ouka
Apocalypse Across the Sky
Axiom
Morocco's Master Musicians of
Jajouka create a beautifully ordered
cacophony, the mesmerizing aural
equivalent of an aphrodisiacal dream
machine that incites one to
"activate" in a highly physical man-
ner.
Brian Jones, the hippest Godstar
of a Stone ever, released a recording
of the Master Musicians of Jajouka
(back when they were from
Joujouka) a long time ago, but that
album was drenched in studio phas-
ing that makes "Their Satanic
Majesties Request" sound subdued.
Now Axiom impresario Bill Laswell
presents "Apocalypse Across the
Sky," a digitally recorded, beauti-
fully packaged, sufficiently anno-
tated document of the Master
Musicians of Jajouka as they sound
today.
Of course, their mystical sound
hasn't changed much, as these mu-
sicians are the descendants of the
Master Musicians of previous gen-
erations. The melange of wind,
string, and percussive instruments,
as well as the occasional vocal, are
enough to put the Moroccan towns-
folk of Jajouka into an ecstatic
frenzy - a true primordial panic.
Such magic power caught the atten-
tion of people who have an eye for
the mystic material behind the cur-
tains of mundane reality, people like
William S. Burroughs (who did the
liner notes) and Brion Gysin (whom
Burroughs quotes extensively).
Legend has it that when the final
generation of Master Musicians
ceases to play, the world will end.
When that happens, I'm sure you'll
r &2:

be happy to know that your post-
apocalyptic compact disc will con-
tinue to give you a magical, musical,
Moroccan mountain kind of high for
a long time.
- Greg Baise
Falling Joys
Psychoh in
Polygram
The opening notes of "Psycho-
hum," Falling Joys' follow-up album
to their debut "Wishlist," hints at an
album full of head-banging. How-
ever, the thrashing chords of "Black
Bandages" prove to be anything but
foreshadowing, at least musically.
The majority of the other songs
on "Psychohum" are exemplary of-
ferings of alternative rock, reminis-
cent of no one in particular but not
innovative either. There's a dual

theme of politics and love. "Black
Bandages" addresses the oil spill in
Kuwait. "Incinerator" fashes such
placards as "waste not want not."
The love longs are less conven-
tional, at least in their lyrical con-
tent, the most fun example being
"Dynamite." It's stuffed with puns
and innuendoes, deriving its value
from the words alone.
But Falling Joys is a band known
for stage performance, so "Psycho-
hum" would bust loose live.
- Kim Yaged
Ratcat
Tingles
Roo Art/Warner Music
While the Southern half of the
world has been enjoying the tinker-
ings of singer-songwriter/guitarist
Simon Day, drummer Andrew Polin

and bassist Amr Zaid, collectively
known as Ratcat, Americans are get-
ting their first dose of the boys in toe
form of the EP "Tingles."
Consisting of only six songs,{
"Tingles" is a throwback to the days
when guitars were fast and heavy but.
you could still hear the lyrics, which
didn't necessarily have to express
the band members' internal strife re-
sulting from the moral degradation
of society as incited by the workings
of the dominant white male culture:
These songs are about girlfriends
drowning, gambling and escape. The
music is rolling rock with spurts of
anthem-like guitar playing. Ratcat is
unpredictable and intelligently
mindless. "Tingles" is full of,
entertainment, but six songs is just
not enough.
- Kim Yaged

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