:: January - February 2018 ::
Join us for this special celebration coming at the end of the month!

In This Dispatch:

Rova @40 - Season Plans

Rova 40th Anniversary Concert

Other Local Rova Shows

Highlights from 4 Decades of Rova Music

New Steve Adams CD - the invisible coat

Rova Member Shows

Rova T-Shirts!

Rova @40!

Picture 1977: Jimmy Carter is sworn in as President of the United States. A bitter winter and a heating-oil shortage move President Carter to proclaim energy crises “the moral equivalent of war.” Millions of TV viewers nationwide tune in to Roots (whose stellar cast, incidentally, includes a well-known football-player-turned-actor, O.J. Simpson). Rocky wins the Academy Award for “Best Picture.” Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors takes the Grammy for “Best Album.” And, well beneath the radar of the pop charts, a ground-breaking saxophone quartet forms in San Francisco.

A lot has changed since then. But Rova remains an intrepid innovator in improvised music, creating adventurous art, and hoping to inspire generations of fans and fellow musicians. February 2018 marks the 40th Anniversary of Rova’s very first public performance—at Mills College in Oakland on February 4, 1978. A ruby anniversary is rare in any union; in a music group, it’s unheard-of. But Rova has achieved not only a feat of longevity, but of ceaseless exploration, logging a wealth of artistic milestones we want to celebrate with all of you.

That early Mills performance laid the groundwork for the spirit of collaboration and experimentation that would become Rova’s hallmark.

As noted elsewhere in this communiqué, we celebrate Rova’s 40th anniversary with a Rova:Arts produced concert in San Francisco. But for the rest of 2018, there are also lots of exciting plans. Note that word plans. I could write a book about planning in the realm of jazz and improvised music. Let’s put it like this: events and projects are entertained enthusiastically by the musicians and the promoters alike until it comes time to sign on the dotted line. It’s at that moment, or a few moments before actually, that the reality of costs versus income makes for prolonged negotiations, much hand-wringing, and compromises. As a result, plans often are not confirmed until the very last minute in our world, as everyone tries to find ways to make the newest dreams come true.

As a result, here we are writing in January of 2018 about plans for 2018, rather than about already-confirmed events and known projects. We know for sure that Rova heads for the Southeast in March 2018, performing 2 shows at the way-cool 2018 Big Ears Festival. First, as a quartet, we present our “Sound in Space Project” at the Knoxville Art Museum. Then we take another crack at Electric Ascension, Rova’s re-arrangement of John Coltrane’s late masterwork, and what seems to be every festival-producer’s favorite Rova mega-project. We have a cast of monster players for that show. But in keeping with our situation as stated above, the players can’t be announced quite yet--not until the schedule of the Big Ears Festival is 100% confirmed. Watch the Big Ears website for an announcement coming shortly. And by the way, take a look at the musicians and bands playing there over 4 days and nights. Incredible. It’s not too late to make plans to be there yourself.

The tour also includes major shows in Orlando, where The Civic Minded Five bring Rova in to present their 100th concert. The CM5 have doggedly presented high-profile improvised music concerts in Orlando for 2 decades. Rova was the band they produced for concert #1. Rova is happy to still be here playing uncompromising music 100 Orlando concerts later. Rova then heads for Alabama for the first time, performing at University of Alabama. Concerts in Athens, Atlanta and Chattanooga fill out that tour.

Plans are still being developed for concerts in May, including at the prestigious Canadian festival, Musique Actuelle Victoriaville in Quebec. By that time, if not sooner, a new Rova CD, In Transverse Time, will have been released, featuring composed works by each of the Rova members. Nope: it will not be Rova’s 40th quartet CD, but the recording definitely has a different overall feel to it than any previous Rova release. Although we’ve released all kinds of collaborative recordings “recently”, this will be the first quartet CD since A Short History in 2012.

Rova’s in the planning stage for a tour of Europe in October, 2018. We’re also talking with Los Angeles producers about performing our collaborative project No Favorites dedicated to Lawrence Butch Morris, employing local LA improvising musicians. In spirit we’re there. In spirit the LA producers are ready to roll. Now it’s a question of finding the funding to pay the musicians. That’s the story, as always.

Over the past 4 decades, Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Bruce Ackley, and Steve Adams (founding member, Andrew Voigt left Rova in August, 1988, and was replaced by Adams) have developed an international reputation, recognized as pioneers in the fields of experimental and improvised music. We have drawn inspiration from a full range of musics and other creative disciplines, and the resultant group sound is improvisational without being free-form, and composed without being predictable.

     The now extinct Village Voice once praised Rova for a sound “like Thelonious Monk crossed with Bartók.”

     Britain’s The Wire wrote, “The quartet seems to have achieved a remarkable thing. They have combined the expressive richness of the jazz saxophone with the structural precision of the European string quartet.”

     The Penguin Guide to Jazz has hailed Rova’s "teeming cosmos of saxophone sounds.”

     Down Beat magazine wrote, “Rova is not only the hardest-working saxophone quartet in blow business, they are also the finest.”

By the time of our 25th anniversary, Jon Raskin considered the group’s most important milestone to have been their first tour of the Soviet Union: “We became more than a band and realized that the music we were making had a larger audience than we knew about. It laid the groundwork for our later becoming a nonprofit organization, and presenting a collaborative concert series—the first being the Pre-Echoes series.” Bruce Ackley said, “For me, the most important milestone has been becoming a nonprofit, being a presenter and a commissioning group. It’s one thing to be a group, but it’s another to have a broad group of people from around the world from whom you commission new works.” Steve Adams added, “It’s a remarkable and unusual thing for a group of people to dedicate themselves to working together so seriously for such a long time.” Larry Ochs noted, “I think one thing that really gratifies all of us is to have created our own language for structured improvisation, and then to find that the language is not only applicable to making music with larger ensembles, and employing musicians not initially familiar with Rova's way of working, but also of great interest to students and younger professional musicians who are looking for ways to stimulate their own creativity.”

Apart from the perennial booking sagas, public performance challenges, and recording format and distribution issues, the band remains dedicated to the craft, rehearsing regularly to keep repertoire together, and conceptualize new ways to integrate composition and improvisation in the context of the saxophone quartet. As we step into our 40th season and 5th decade, we’re charged and ready to go.


Rova 40th Anniversary Concert

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Rova 40th Anniversary Concert

Rova (+1): Featuring Dohee Lee, Wobbly, and ACVilla

Image by ACVilla

Rova marks the beginning of their 5th decade in action with an evening of 3 collaborations, presented in two sets:

Set 1:
Rova + Dohee Lee
 (voice and movement) perform Slowville, a structured improvisation composed by Larry Ochs
Rova + Wobbly (electronics) perform Luau Axe Quiz, composed/designed by Steve Adams

Set 2:
perform ACVilla's No Distractions

Specifically envisioned for Rova Saxophone Quartet and The Lab, video artist ACVilla has created a unique visual score that will be played in three simultaneous movements. This artistic collaboration calls upon Rova’s four decades of shared sonic exploration, intuition and surprises as well as their intrepid tours; ACVilla is curious how their past, dating up to today, will join her experiences of a decade of perpetual travel. From a collection of video footage she gathered while touring throughout the lower 48 states, she has chosen pieces that invite each audience member and musician to wander through their own cultural landscape, stopping now and then to greet their personal preconceptions and then move along together, swept up in the moment of patterns, textures, colors, movement and music.

ACVilla at work

The Lab
2948 16th Street
San Francisco


Other Local Rova Shows

Scores for Jon Raskin’s Flower Power (top), and for Steve Adams’ #35

Sunday, January 21, 4:00 PM

Minus Zero Presents: Musicians for Planned Parenthood

In this special concert to benefit Planned Parenthood, Rova will present works by Steve Adams and Jon Raskin realized through graphic notation.

Complete studio recordings of Rova performing the Raskin and Adams graphically-scored pieces are now available, including unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more. You can download the complete set of recordings, and also have the option to order high quality prints of the scores. All proceeds will go to Planned Parenthood to continue their important work.

The Ivy Room
860 San Pablo Ave
Albany, CA 94706

Also performing are:
The Ben Goldberg / Sheldon Brown / Vijay Anderson Trio
Hafez Modirzadeh / Prasant Radhakrishnan Duo
Duo B
Devin Hoff
Dina Maccabee


Highlights from 4 Decades of Rova Music


Early in its history, Rova began writing original music, touring, and recording (releasing its first album, Cinema Rovaté, on Larry Ochs' Metalanguage label). The band played both at the Vancouver New Music Society (1978) and the Moers International Festival of New Jazz in Germany (1979). Over the next few years, Rova performed widely throughout North America and Europe and in 1983 became the first American new music group to tour the Soviet Union. A documentary video of the tour, Saxophone Diplomacy, aired on PBS stations throughout the U.S. in 1984. Rova returned to the USSR in November 1989 and subsequently released a live CD from the tour, This Time We Are Both (New Albion Records). Between those visits, in 1986, Rova (which had incorporated as a nonprofit organization the previous year presented a San Francisco performance by the Ganelin Trio, the first Soviet jazz group to appear in the U.S. The trio performed with Rova at its first Pre-Echoes series of collaborative events, which would later include concerts with Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Terry Riley, and other leading composer/improvisers. 

Highlights of Rova's prolific career in the '90s include

Numerous European tours plus festival appearances such as the Yokohama Jazz Promenade in Japan; the 1993 Belgian festival “Antwerpen 93” (commissioning Larry Ochs’ composition The Secret Magritte for Rova plus percussion, 2 bass and 2 pianos); the Vancouver Jazz Festival; Festival Internationale Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (Quebec, Canada); the Documenta IX International Art Exhibition in Kassel, Germany; a piece created for performance in the Ludwig Wittgenstein Museum, Vienna, Austria; concerts with Alvin Curran in Switzerland, Croatia, Germany, Portugal and the U.S.; appearances in Chicago, Milwaukee and Toronto for the New Music Across America Festival; a twentieth anniversary celebration presented by SF Jazz Festival; creation of the piece Resistance for sax quartet and four DAT machines for ORF, the Austrian National Radio; and the presentation of John Coltrane's Ascension in San Francisco. Quartet members were also commissioned to write music for Rova by both Meet the Composer and Chamber Music America.

In 1999, Rova's nonprofit support organization, Rova:Arts, began presenting two annual events in the San Francisco Bay Area: 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.

Our continuing series, Rovaté, began as a festival but evolved into an annual collaborative event. Collaborating artists have included:1998 - Performances by What We Live, the Tiny Bell Trio (Dave Douglas, Jim Black and Brad Shepik), Actual Size and John Schott's Diglossia Ensemble

1999 - Maelstrom with Sam Rivers Trio, and a big band of San Francisco musicians.

2000 - Collaboration with Gerry Hemingway

2001 - The M'ad Din with Wadada Leo Smith, a string ensemble of San Francisco musicians, and a performance of Rova compositions by John Schott's Diglossia Ensemble

2002 - An Alligator in Your Wallet: Big Band music composed by Steve Adams and Satoko Fujii with Rova as horn section plus Natsuki Tamura, Carla Kihlstedt, Darren Johnston, Mike Vlatkovich, Tom Yoder, Ken Filiano and Scott Amendola. (CD release in 2007, now exclusively available from Rova Bandcamp page.)

2003 - Electric Ascension with Nels Cline, Chris Brown, Ikue Mori, Carla Kihlstedt, Jenny Scheinman, Otomo Yoshihide, Fred Frith and Donald Robinson and Steve Lacy's Saxophone Special. (CD release of this Electric Ascension set on Atavistic in 2006.)

2004 - The Hear and Now with Min Xiao-Fen, Kyaw Kyaw Naing, Jiebing Chen, Shoko Hikage, Sang Won Park, Jim Santi Owen and Gino Robair

2005 - The Mirror World, composed by Larry Ochs, with Gino Robair, William Winant, and a large ensemble of San Francisco musicians. (CD release of this concert in 2007 on Metalanguage)

2006 - Glass Head with inkBoat: dancers Shinichi Momo Koga and Yuko Kaseki and visual artist Eric Koziol

2007 - Eye Music for Ears with Joan Jeanrenaud, Theresa Wong, Mark Dresser, Mark Trayle, Fred Frith, Ches Smith and Devin Hoff performing graphic scores by Steve Adams, Jon Raskin, Fred Frith and visual artist Amy Trachtenberg

2008 - The Celestial Septet with the Nels Cline Singers (Nels Cline, Devin Hoff and Scott Amendola) (CD release in 2011 on New World Records).

2009 - Fissures, Futures (for Buckminster Fuller) with visual artist Lillevan and musicians Carla Kihlstedt, Charlotte Hug, Joan Jeanrenaud, Lisle Ellis, Thomas Lehn and Kjell Nordesen.

2010 - Pandaemonium composed by Carla Kihlstedt for Rova and 2 narrators

2011 – 331/3 – with DJ Olive and DJ P-Love

2013 - Grand Electric Skull – a multi-media concert with Ikue Mori (video) and Gino Robair (electronics and conductor)

2015 – No Favorites – for Lawrence Butch Morris – Rova member compositions composed or arranged for OrkestRova. (CD release of studio recording on New World Records in 2016.)

2017 – Beowulf – an extended, 20 performance run of multi-media performances co-produced with We Players and inkBoat

Some of these projects have had ongoing lives as exportable shows. Electric Ascension has been performed to great acclaim at festivals in Europe and the U.S., with the original band when possible, but with other musicians as well, including Andrew Cyrille, Trevor Dunn, Tom Rainey, Hamid Drake, Rob Mazurek, Lisle Ellis, Natsuki Tamura, Peter Evans, Eyvind Kang, Jason Hwang, Marina Rosenfeld, Thomas Lehn, Zeena Parkins, Andrea Parkins, Elliot Sharp, Peggy Lee and Wayne Horvitz, among others. And in 2016, a fantastic 5-camera concert-video was released as a DVD and Blu-ray, documenting Electric Ascension as performed at the 2012 Guelph Festival. That has been combined with the documentary Cleaning the Mirror – the hows and whys behind the making of EA – to make up a 2 hour package called Rova Channeling Coltrane.

The sextet version of The Mirror World with two drummers has been performed in Europe and Japan with many different drum pairings: Paul Lytton and Raymond Strid, William Winant and Gino Robair, Samm Bennett and Tatsuya Yoshida, Michael Vatcher and Tony Buck, Vladimir Tarasov and Fritz Hauser, Fabrizio Spera and Cristiano Calcagnile, Tom Rainey and Mike Sarin, among others. The “big-band” project An Alligator in Your Wallet has had compelling realizations in Japan, Switzerland, France and Finland, with Satoko Fujii, Natsuki Tamura and local musicians.

Rova has mounted other notable collaborations, including a quintet with Anthony Braxton, as recorded on LP and CE, The Aggregate; a quintet with John Zorn as recorded on The Receiving Surfaces; a sextet with Fred Frith and Tom Cora; an octet with four Turkish percussionists; the saxophone octet Figure 8 with Tim Berne, Glenn Spearman, Dave Barrettt and Vinny Golia (recorded in 1993 on Black Saint); and joint projects with existing bands including Mr. Bungle, Splatter Trio, and The Hub.

Other highlights of the 21st century include performing with Yo! Miles at the Fillmore in San Francisco; Rova’s second tour of Japan with a performance on NHK, the national radio network; performances at festivals such as the Akbank Jazz Festival in Istanbul, the Festival Internationale Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, Jazz em Agosto in Lisbon, the Leipzig Jazz Festival, the Zomer Jazz Fietstour in Groningen, Holland, the Ulrichsberg Kaleidophon Festival in Austria, Novara Jazz in Italy and the Sons D’Hiver Festival in Paris. Rova's American tours have taken us to venues including Merkin Hall in New York, the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL and the Redcat Theater in Los Angeles. In January 2016, a week-long retrospective of Rova’s career took place at The Stone in New York City, and also included a first NY performance of Electric Ascension at Le Poisson Rouge, as part of Winterfest 2016.

2016-17 was Rova’s 39th season as a group. Events during this season included collaborations with performance artist Dohee Lee, electronics master Wobbly, The Fred Frith Trio (performing as a septet), and an indoor / outdoor music-theater piece centered around the classic play Beowulf, combining the talents of Rova, The We Players and inkBoat. In October 2016 Rova released No Favorites. This new CD featured 3 compositions by members of Rova performed by “Orkestrova” – an eleven-piece ensemble conducted by improviser Gino Robair; The CD - dedicated to Lawrence ‘Butch’ Morris – features compositions involving notation, improvisation and conduction. That is Morris’ term for spontaneous cues based on the music of the moment, the cues chosen here coming from Rova’s system of visual cues they call Radar.

In addition to the direct mentoring of improvising musicians through performance collaborations, Rova:Arts (the non-profit umbrella organization of the Rova Saxophone Quartet) draws much-needed critical and popular attention to improvised music in the Bay Area — including the events presented by Rova:Arts— through its international reputation for artistic excellence and innovation. As Bay Area-based guitarist/composer John Schott said of Rova in the pages of SF Weekly nearly 20 years ago, “They’ve played together 20-plus years, they rehearse constantly and ferociously, they tour and record prolifically, they go out of their way to encourage and create opportunities for up-and-comers, and they are just so damn good at what they do. Who wouldn’t want to be involved with that?” In a similar vein, former Bay Area improvising bassist Damon Smith told the San Francisco Bay Guardian, “They confirm that this is serious music…by presenting high-profile performances with international guests in concert halls, while working year-round in regular venues with the rest of us.”

The improvised music scene shifts and changes all the time, and Rova can take credit for inspiring the scene to develop artistically. “The Bay Area has always been a generative place for change in the arts,” said Raskin. “The idea of improvised music as we think of it today had its start in the early sixties, and it seems that each decade brings a new generation and perspective to its creation. It seems broader today with a greater diversity of elements, instruments and sources. The use of ‘noise’ that seemed radical when Rova started is commonplace in popular music now. There also seems to be more diversity of approaches—from mixing composition and improvisation, as Rova does, to the use of computers and studio gear in the creation of improvised music.”
One thing is certain: Rova’s music and the events presented by Rova:Arts continue to stimulate the improvised music scene and bring groundbreaking music to wider audiences.


New CD from Steve Adams

Steve says:
the invisible coat
, available at steveadams.bandcamp.com/album/the-invisible-coat, is a group of pieces that were started as my contribution to songadayforamonth.com during July, 2017. That website is exactly what it sounds like, people attempting to post a song a day for a month and commenting on what others are doing. Due to the compressed time frame, the originals were more sketches than finished projects, and all the versions here have been expanded or otherwise improved. 

The name “The Invisible Coat” comes from Dorothea Lange, found in a great exhibition of her work at the Oakland Museum that I saw during that month. The “lyrics” of “The Internet, pts. 1-4” come from comments on electronic music sites. The voice sample in “The Volcano” is an Icelandic woman explaining how to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull. The guitar sample in “The Internet, pt. 4 - refreshed” and “Hypothetical Duet” is by Henry Kaiser, and the bass flute in “Hypothetical Duet” and sopranino sax in “The Internet, pt. 3 - eerily attracted” were played by me and recorded by Bruce Kaplan as part of “A Few Eccentricities,” my project with Tim Perkis. Thanks to my wife Lauren for putting up with all this, Philip Perkins for his help with “Translucent Collage,” Myles Boisen for his mastering guidance, and Steve Blum and the other participants in songadayforamonth.

Released January 1, 2018 
Steve Adams - electronics, sopranino sax, bass flute


Rova Member Shows

Thursday, January 11, 8:00 PM

Larry Ochs / Karl Evangelista / Robert Lopez

Gold Lion Arts
2733 Riverside Blvd.
Sacramento 95818


Friday, January 12, 9:00 PM

Larry Ochs / Fred Frith / Darren Johnston / Allison Miller

Bird & Beckett Books & Records
653 Chenery St.
San Francisco


Sunday, January 28, 5:30 - 6:00 PM

Old Scout

3234 Grand Ave.
Oakland, CA 94610


Steve Adams - sax and electronics
Myles Boisen - guitar
Tim Rowe - percussion

At Studio Grand’s 5 Year Anniversary Celebration, which goes from 1:30-7:30


Saturday, February 3, 9:00 PM

A Love Supreme Celebration

Sweetwater Music Hall
Mill Valley, CA


Bob Bralove, John Hanrahan, Henry Kaiser, Steve Kimock, Reed Mathis, Larry Ochs


Sunday, February 18, 5:00 PM

Matt Small's Crushing Spiral Ensemble

Smiley's Saloon
41 Wharf Road
Bolinas, CA 94924
(415) 868-1311


Steve Adams - sax and flute
Sheldon Brown - sax and clarinet
Chris Grady - trumpet
Matt Small - bass and compositions
Steve Blum - piano
Michael Pinkham - drums



WATCH THIS SPACE - New CD coming spring, 2018

Rova T-Shirts!!!

Check out the design below, featuring an image shot by our friend, Finnish photographer, Lauri Nykopp, which is printed on quality black tees. THE SHIRTS ARE VERY LIMITED EDITION. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

Available in XXL – XL – L - M

US: $20 + tax $1.75 + shipping $4 US = $25.75 Foreign: $20 + tax $1.75 + shipping $8 = $29.75

Click here to order your t-shirt


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About Rova:Arts

Rova:Arts, formed in 1986 to support the activities of Rova, has been instrumental in producing local projects and advancing an ongoing cultural exchange between local Bay Area artists and the international scene through its Rovaté concert series. These events, made possible by funding to Rova:Arts, have engaged Bay Area musicians and composers—as well as musicians from around the world. Rova:Arts projects are often reproduced in other parts of the world, thereby bringing the work to a broader audience. Also, many Rova:Arts events have been recorded, resulting in releases which have been enthusiastically celebrated.

Click here to find out more and to Join Rova:Arts. If you are interested in getting involved in a more hands-on-way, feel free to contact us: http://www.rova.org/contact.html. Thanks for being part of the art.

Bandcamp! Bandcamp!

We’re now offering both new and impossible to find Rova recordings and other points of interest on our Bandcamp page. Be sure to check out recordings there, including No Favorites, as well as, for example, the long out-of-print 1990 recording Long on Logic that we are making available as a CD download for the first time.

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