ROVA:ORCHESTROVA Electric Ascension

Electric Ascension is the sequel to ROVA’s 1995 re-imagining of John Coltrane’s 1965 classic. Though the ROVA sax quartet would not term it such, we’ve learned from George Lucas that a sequel is like the original but with better technology and more toys. It’s a star studded line-up including guitarist Nels Cline, turntablist Otomo Yoshihide, laptop improviser Ikue Mori, and Fred Frith, who is uncharacteristically on bass. ROVA are perfect architects for this project; their ingenious approach to the sonic possibilities of the saxophone quartets is unmatched. They’ve captured the right balance of soul and searching required from Coltrane’s central voice, and have orchestrated the proceedings around it. Following a gutsy beginning by the core quartet, Cline' s typically keening guitar plays off a wall of turntables, electronics, strings, percussion and cavernous bass. In fact, Frith may be the most important performer on this disc; he hasn’t done much bass work since the ’80s, but he manages to give direction to the improvising, gently dive-bombing into the fray with a few select notes. The two violins are also well served, especially during a lovely duet between Jenny Scheinman and ROVA’s Bruce Ackley. Electric Ascension perfectly executes what ROVA member Larry Ochs calls "structured improvisation.” One minor drawback to this disc is its flat mix makes certain electronic contributions difficult to hear. Nevertheless, much like the early FMP discs, the raw bigness of the sound outweighs the fidelity. (Atavistic)