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What We Live: Never Was

Composed of bassist Lisle Ellis, saxophonist Larry Ochs, and drummer Donald Robinson, What We Live stretches jazz’s boundaries through the distillation of its fundamentals. While their subtle interplay and surges of raw power can prompt comparisons with trios ranging from Sonny Rollins’ late ’50s unit (with Henry Grimes and Pete La Roca) to The Trio (the early ’70s co-op with John Surman, Barre Phillips, and Stu Martin), they have their own well balanced ensemble sound. On Never Was, this cohesiveness proves to be much more than enough to closely hold the listener’s interest; on Quintet for a Day, it proves to be especially catalytic, as trumpeters Dave Douglas and Wadada Leo Smith hand in consistently engaging performances.

Consumers should be wary of a more-is-better logic if choosing between the two. Quintet for a Day has the undeniable asset of a free flowing colloquy between Douglas’ flinty erudition and Smith’s Zen koan-like statements; but, the fullness of their exchanges owes much to the trio. Never Was details how Ellis’ clean sense of line, Robinson’s uncluttered approach to pulse (his brushwork is particularly refreshing), and Ochs’ incisive tenor and sopranino contours, coalesce into a surprisingly earthy sound. By all measures, What We Live are out there; yet the essences of Mingus, Jo Jones, Hawkins, and others swirling through their music reveal them to be deep in the tradition.

They are as satisfying to hear on their own as they are in the company of such major stylists as Douglas and Smith.

Originally Published