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ROVA Saxophone Quartet

The ROVA Saxophone Quartet got started in late '70s Berkeley, nurtured by the thriving Mills College free music scene. Often credited with reinventing the notion of a saxophone quartet, the all-saxophone ensemble featured soprano, alto, tenor, and bass sax, and even, on occasion, "sopranino," or piccolo sax. Not surprisingly, the group was influenced by post-bop saxophone composers like John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Anthony Braxton. But it also counted as sources of inspiration avant-garde greats like musique concrete giant Edgard Varese and experimental pioneer John Cage, as well as ethnic musics from all over world.

Over the two-plus decades since the group's inception, its members have developed a synergistic, highly unique style of structured improvisation marked first and foremost by the dynamic interplay of different saxophone tones. ROVA's fierce commitment to creative music has taken them from a marginal place at the fringe of the avant-garde to a position as leaders in the new school of collective improvisation. The group has embarked upon collaborative endeavors with such noted boundary pushers as Braxton, Terry Riley, John Zorn, Fred Frith, the Kronos Quartet, and Alvin Curran. Their discography contains nearly 40 releases. They've even incorporated as a nonprofit. They're an institution.

One of ROVA's earliest recordings, As Was (1981), stands as a benchmark in the history of 20th century creative music. It's a riotous circus of competing and complementary reed sounds and a carefully considered study in contrasting textures. "Under the Street Where You Live," a piece dedicated to Albert Ayler, is an experiment in saxophone hierarchy, showcasing the tenor player (Larry Ochs), with the baritone player (John Raskin) serving as the secondary soloist, and the two soprano players (Andrew Voigt and Bruce Ackley) working together as foils for the other musicians' lower register sounds.