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January/February 1997

What We Live
What We Live
DIW
What We Live
What We Live Fo(u)r
Black Saint/Soul Note

While the members of What We Live -bassist Lisle Ellis, saxophonist Larry Ochs, and drummer Donald Robinson-comprise one-half of saxophonist Glenn Spearman's Double Trio, this dynamic trio takes a distinctively different tack than the larger Bay Area unit. The music of What We Live is much more ruminative than that of Spearman's Double Trio, which primarily deals in high-powered free music. The generally lower voltage allows for a subtle, detailed interplay that is usually submerged in large ensemble blow outs. Additionally, it makes their occasional surges into overdrive all the more effective. A case of less is more, What We Live creates daring new jazz you can savor.

Accordingly, the import DIW disc provides a better introduction to the trio's approach, as the Black Saint album features a different Bay Area-based guest artist on six out of seven tracks. Ochs is no mere appendage to the proceeding; in fact, his tenor and sopranino are often very much the lead voice. Yet, consistently throughout the DIW program, it is the collaborative efforts of Ellis and Robinson that commands attention, even when they are in clearly supportive roles. Their years of shedding together is evident time and again in the melding of Ellis' sure sense of line and plump tone with Robinson's uncluttered cymbal patterns and expert brush work.

The guest list on What We Live Fo(u)r is a fine cross-section of the Bay Area creative music community. Unfortunately, Spearman's cameo is pretty much limited to wood flute musings on the brief, fluttering opening piece, "Addressing the Ancestors." Koto player Miya Maraoka and violinist India Cooke make sympathetic contributions on extended textural explorations. Bass clarinetist Ben Goldberg and Double Trio percussionist William Winant are on board for the most overtly jazz excursions of the two albums, the latter dusting off concepts tackled on Anthony Williams' Blue Notes with Bobby Hutcherson, Sam Rivers, and Gary Peacock. And, fittingly, Ellis' longtime partner, Vancouver pianist Paul Plimley, makes the date, prodding the trio with his propulsive clusters and pummeled chords on the hard-hitting "Slice."

The trio of Plimley, Ellis, and Robinson can also be heard on the pianist's solid Music & Arts set, Density of the Lovestruck Demons. - Bill Shoemaker

Originally published in January/February 1997
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