For nearly 25 years, the Bay Area's Rova Saxophone Quartet has been a model of improvisational ingenuity. Two dozen critically acclaimed albums and hundreds of worldwide concerts attest to its members' essential role in shaping contemporary creative exploration into an uncanny synthesis of composed and improvised forms. While their work draws from jazz, classical, experimental, and improv, their approach is fundamentally borderless; it speaks on a level that ventures far beyond the stylistic limits of any one genre.
This genre-bending principle also guides the program for Rovaté 2001, a two-night festival of experimental instrumental music specially commissioned by the group's nonprofit arm, Rova:Arts. This year's featured composers include San Francisco pianist Graham Connah, Rova's Larry Ochs, veteran L.A. trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, and Berkeley guitarist John Schott. Though surprise will likely lead the day, Schott's set may prove to be the most ambitious.
Well known as a gifted improviser, Schott possesses a fine-tuned harmonic sensitivity and a capacious sound on National steel and electric guitars. As a composer, he has come into his own as a kind of musical time traveler. With Junk Genius, he updated the bebop charts of Bird et al. by blowing up the melodies and reconstructing them for the 21st century. On last year's mesmerizing CD Shuffle Play: Elegies for the Recording Angel, he crafted experimental compositions from the fragments of ancient cylinders and 78s, jumping off from the sound of the source material (e.g., the fuzziness of the old cylinders) as much as the melodic or timbral substance of a given song (e.g., Cousin & De Moss' "Poor Mourner" from 1897). His contribution to Rovaté 2001 isolates moments from Rova's vast discography and arranges them into an organic collagelike form. Think of it as a postmodern Rova cover band, as inventive as the original with a relentless core of new-music integrity.