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Portland Jazz Festival: A Celebration of ECM

If there are a few genre-altering albums in the avant-garde jazz canon worthy of a postmodern update, John Coltrane’s Ascension must surely be one of them (alongside the saxophonist’s A Love Supreme and Interstellar Space, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and perhaps Pharoah Sanders’ Tauhid). The oft-lauded, occasionally despised and generally misunderstood piece incites such a polarizing reaction with its listeners-as intensely today as it did in 1965-that to undertake an adaptation of it automatically places its revisionists under close scrutiny.

ROVA Saxophone Quartet, the all-saxophone ensemble that’s been exploring jazz from its inception in the early 20th century to its commingling with avant-garde classical composition and ethnic influence, first attempted Ascension in 1996 with instrumentation similar to that of Coltrane’s original lineup. While admirable, the recording failed to expand Coltrane’s vision into new textural and combinatorial territory-the latter being arguably the most significant aspect of its improvisational possibilities. In 2003, ROVA returned to the concept with an entirely new “Electric” lineup, this time including Otomo Yoshihide on turntables and electronics, Chris Brown on electronics, Ikue Mori on drum machines and sampler, Nels Cline on electric guitar and Carla Kihlstedt (Tin Hat Trio, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) and Jenny Scheinman (Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux) on violins. This ensemble and a couple variations of it have recorded an album and performed the piece live over the past few years in places such as Vancouver and Lisbon.

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