ROVA Orkestrova – Electric Ascension (Atavistic, 2005)
The west coast saxophone quartet ROVA has been at the forefront of avant-garde jazz for over a quarter of a century. As a part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the band they invited a number of guests who played electric or electronic instruments to join the band in an interpretation of John Coltrane's most controversial composition, Ascension. Two versions of this extended free jazz suite were recorded by John Coltrane in 1965 and polarized the jazz world with it's cauterizing performance. This was actually ROVA's second recorded interpretation of Ascension and it certainly takes quite a bit of fortitude to record it not once, but twice!
The original performance was transcribed and then arranged into a suite like “structured improvisation” the utilized not only the entire group as a whole as when they state the melody at the beginning and end of the composition, but also breaks the group down into smaller units for improvisational sections within the larger composition. Yes, as in the original work there are many passages of howling, shrieking saxophone, but there are also portions of this interpretation which are quietly eerie, especially when the strings combine with the electronics for an otherworldly interlude in the maelstrom.
This disc certainly isn't for the faint of heart, but those with an appreciation for free improvisation and an interest in the legacy and impact of John Coltrane's free jazz period on the musicians of today will find much to enjoy in this msuic.