Think of the human voice in music. The most primal of instruments, it can melt you or move you to tears on the spot. Then it’s the saxophone, one-step removed from the human voice, and the next most powerful messenger in music. Johnny Hodges, Albert Ayler, Steve Lacy, Pharoah Sanders, Oliver Lake, King Curtis, Tim Berne - to name only a few of the many singular voices on the instrument who, with one short phrase or even one sound, can take your breath away, or excite and inspire you to great heights.
Multiply that power, that capability, times 4, and you have a saxophone quartet. Rova Sax Quartet: a group that can move you the way an Eastern European choir of voices can move you, but also a group with force, a force that can feel as if its tearing the walls of the listening space down, or that can simulate the complex sound of a machine, 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.
Rova Sax Quartet's musical goal has always been, since 1978, to instigate, to challenge, and to inspire. The group explores the synthesis of composition and collective improvisation, creating exciting, genre-bending music. Rova:Arts, formed in 1986, acts as the umbrella organization for the musicians, facilitating the goals and productions and tours, the collaborations and special projects.
Rova is one of the longest-standing groups in the music movement that has its roots in post-bop, free jazz, avant-rock, and 20th century new music; Rova draws inspiration from the visual arts, contemporary poetry, contemporary dance. We listen closely and deeply appreciate both the traditional and the pop music styles of Africa and Asia. And then there is the blues; always a key. More about Rova and Rova:Arts here: www.rova.org
Most recent recordings: Rova: A Short History (Jazzwerkstatt - CD) // Rova + John Zorn: The Receiving Surfaces (Metalanguage - LP) // Rova: Planetary (SoLyd – CD) // Rova + Nels Cline Singers: The Celestial Septet (New World Records – CD)
Rova:Arts produces a bi-monthly email communique with opinions and stories from both Rova members and from other friends in music and other arts fields, as well as Rova news. This e-dispatch – called On Rova’s Radar - can be had by signing up to receive it here. A lot of music samples and full discography available at www.rova.org
Rova’s most recent special project receiving a lot of attention is a concert video: 12 musicians performing Rova's arrangement of John Coltrane's Ascension; Rova calls this "Electric Ascension." The film began screening at music and film festivals in 2014. Directed by John Rogers, the 5-camera shoot of a festival performance took place at 2012 Guelph Jazz Festival in Canada. The concert film is super high-quality in both picture and sound. Rogers' accompanying documentary on the project - Cleaning the Mirror - explains the whys and hows behind the music. More about this here: Channeling Coltrane
In noting Rova's innovative role in developing the all-saxophone ensemble as "a regular and conceptually wide-ranging unit," The Penguin Guide to Jazz calls its music "a teeming cosmos of saxophone sounds" created by "deliberately eschewing conventional notions about swing [and] prodding at the boundaries of sound and space..." Likewise Jazz: The Rough Guide notes, "Highly inventive, eclectic and willing to experiment, Rova [is] arguably the most exciting of the saxophone quartets to emerge in the format's late '70s boom."
Inspired by a broad spectrum of musical influences - from Charles Ives, Edgard Varese, Olivier Messiaen, Iannis Xenakis and Morton Feldman to The Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Coltrane, Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman - Rova began, in 1978, writing new material, touring, and recording, including early collaborations with such like-minded colleagues as guitarists Henry Kaiser and Fred Frith, and saxophonist John Zorn. Also in its early years, Rova shared the stage in collaborations with fellow San Francisco based trailblazers Kronos Quartet and Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. A 1983 tour of the USSR and accompanying PBS documentary highlighted the first five years of Rova's existence.
In 1999, Rova's nonprofit support organization, Rova:Arts, began presenting two annual events in the San Francisco Bay Area:
(1) New Music on the Mountain presented three or four acts outdoors at Mt. Tamalpais every September through 2005. Artists performing there included the Tin Hat Trio, Pauline Oliveros, Wadada Leo Smith, Vinny Golia and Bert Turetsky, Cheryl Leonard, Fred Frith, and Joan Jeanrenaud.