Performing together in various ensembles since 1991, Ochs and Robinson performed for the first time as a duo in 2011 in their hometown San Francisco Bay Area. At each of the first two concerts, an enthusiastic recording engineer offered them free access to his studio in the following months. As a result, the duo recorded a CD’s worth of music over that summer, and that is now released as The Throne (in January 2015 on the CD label Not Two). That material comprises much of the music they performed on tour in 2013, their first year performing together (as a duo) outside San Francisco.
Ochs is a founding member of the great ROVA Saxophone Quartet, one of the Bay Area’s avant-garde treasures since 1978. Robinson – “a percussive dervish,” according to Coda – was the drummer of choice for ROVA’s revivification of John Coltrane’s Ascension. The East Bay Express has said of the saxophonist’s sound: “Ochs’ full-bodied tenor is out of the John Coltrane/Albert Ayler ‘free’ tradition: forceful, passionate… talking-in-tongues,” while the Chicago Reader said about the drummer and his relationship with Ochs: “Robinson is neither flashy nor explosive, but his playing has heft and he covers lots of ground – he can maintain a feeling of order while playing meter-less rhythms or transform the pulse of jagged post-bop until it’s almost abstract. He’s a good match for Ochs, and over the decades the two of them have developed a fine-tuned rapport.”
Although Ochs and Robinson have collaborated in various groups for more than 20 years – including in the trio What We Live with bassist Lisle Ellis – their duo is a recent phenomenon, having developed over the past couple of years. Ochs says: “Our playing together has evolved to a really special place, I think. We’re definitely coming out of the tradition of horn-drum duos from John Coltrane & Rashied Ali to Wadada Leo Smith & Billy Higgins, but we’ve found our own space after a long stretch of shows together. Our set will include new, original material, with some high-energy playing and things that are more spatial, as well as some homages to more popular music. In a sparse setting like this, the music hits a listener right away – nothing is obscured, everything is clear.”
Ochs and Robinson performance history together:
1991 to 1998 in The Glenn Spearman Double Trio.
1994 to 2002, What We Live, a trio - initated by bassist Lisle Ellis - that recorded many CDs and added incredible guests for special concerts/recordings including Dave Douglas, Wadada Leo Smith, Nels Cline, John Zorn, Miya Masaoka, Saadet Turkoz and Chris Brown, among others.
2000 to 2010 - Robinson was part of the Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core featuring drummer Scott Amendola, as well as Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura from 2007 - 2010.
2003 – Robinson performed in Rova’s first two iterations of Electric Ascension.
Throughout all this time, Ochs and Robinson jammed and rehearsed in Robinson’s studio, easily done as they live only 15 minutes apart. Thus it seems inevitable that they would – eventually - create a special repertoire for this duo.
Larry Ochs → Saxophones
In his thirty-plus years in Rova, Larry Ochs has created roughly two dozen compositions for saxophone quartet as well as other pieces for Rova in extended ensembles, many of which are recorded, and some of which were commissioned by Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Foundation and Meet the Composer. He has been acting executive director of Rova:Arts since 1987. In addition Ochs currently composes for and leads Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core (with Scott Amendola, Don Robinson, Satoko Fujii, and Natsuki Tamura
[Stone Shift, CD]) and Kihnoua with vocalist Dohee Lee, Scott Amendola and special guests [the Sybil’s Whisper, 2012 CD]). He is performing in collective bands: East-West Ensemble (with Didier Petit, Sylvain Kassap, Miya Masaoka, Xu Fengxia), Jones Jones (with Mark Dresser and Vladimir Tarasov), Maybe Monday (with Masaoka and Fred Frith), Shelton-Ochs Quartet (with Aram Shelton, Kjell Nordeson and Scott Walton).
Don Robinson → Drums
Donald Robinson is a technical master of the drums. Long-time studies with funk- master Charles Cook, and also with bebop pioneer Kenny Clarke in Paris in the 1970’s, honed his physical technique. Performing with the likes of Cecil Taylor, Glenn Spearman, Lisle Ellis, and Rova Sax Quartet honed his mental acuity. He is a stalwart of the San Francisco Bay Area avant-garde jazz scene, playing and recording with many of the area's improvisational players, from saxophonists John Tchicai, Marco Eneidi and Larry Ochs to koto player Miya Masaoka and pianist Matthew Goodheart. He has also been Bay Area drummer of choice for prominent visitors like Wadada Leo Smith, Cecil Taylor, Joe McPhee, George Lewis, Raphe Malik, Dave Douglas, and Paul Plimley.
Much of his work has seen him featured in the stellar rhythm section of Robinson and bassist Lisle Ellis, especially including the band "What We Live” with Larry Ochs on saxophones, a trio that toured in Europe and North America from 1994 – 2002, sometimes with special guests such as Dave Douglas, Wadada Leo Smith or Kazakh vocalist Saadet Turkoz. Recordings with all three of these artists were made in that period as well as three trio recordings.
His longest musical association, dating from the 1970's, was with the late tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman; these two appear on something close to a dozen CDs together in sextets, quintets, and quartets with several tours to Europe, including in the 1990's with "The Glenn Spearman Double Trio." Robinson is currently playing in many configurations with a broad range of musicians throughout Europe and the USA including "Larry Ochs Sax and Drumming Core" with Satoko Fujii, Natsuki Tamura, Ochs and Scott Amendola. He is also the drummer of choice on Rova Saxophone Quartet's two recordings of John Coltrane's Ascension (from 1996 and 2003). Other performers he has appeared with include Amiri Baraka, Idris Ackamoor + The Pyramids, Jean Marc Montera (France), Peter Kowald, Frank Gratkowski (Germany), John Butcher(UK), Mats Gustafsson (Sweden), and from USA: Fred Frith, Miya Masaoka, India Cooke, George Lewis, William Parker, Chris Brown, William Winant, Scott Walton, Eddie Gale, JD Parran.