The experimental jazz zeitgeist of the 1960s and 1970s made possible any number of unconventional instrumental groupings. The basic horn-piano-bass-drums lineup of the modern jazz era lost its mandate, as more musicians searched for fresh and unusual sonorities. Ornette Coleman's bands did away with the piano; Cecil Taylor's trio with Jimmy Lyons and Sunny Murray eliminated the bass. Musicians associated with the Chicago-based AACM occasionally did away with one or more (or all) elements of the rhythm section; for example, in its first incarnation the Art Ensemble of Chicago had no drummer.
It was perhaps inevitable that ensembles comprised of like instruments should appear. With the advent of the World Saxophone Quartet in the late '70s, the all-saxophone band came into vogue. The San Francisco-based Rova Saxophone Quartet was formed at virtually the same time as the WSQ. While it never attained that band's degree of popularity, Rova became the second most famous ensemble of its kind, and probably the most adventurous. Rova was founded in October 1977 by Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Andrew Voigt, and Bruce Ackley. Its first concert was held at Mills College in Oakland in February of the next year. From the beginning, Rova was unique. While at heart a free jazz-based unit, the group's members had a manifest love and interest in 20th century art music of all kinds; Charles Ives, Olivier Messiaen, John Cage, and Edgard Varèse were acknowledged influences, along with jazz greats like John Coltrane, Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, and Ornette Coleman. The group recorded its first album, Cinema Rovaté, in 1978 for Ochs' Metalanguage label. Since then the band released more than two dozen recordings on labels such as Black Saint, New Albion, Sound Aspects, and hatART.
The band has performed all over the world. In 1983, it became the first new music ensemble from the United States to tour the then-Soviet Union; a film documenting the experience was subsequently aired on PBS. In 1986, the Ganelin Trio became the first Soviet jazz group to play the U.S. as guests of Rova, performing at the group's Pre-Echoes series of collaborative events. The series would in later years include such musicians as John Zorn, Braxton, and Terry Riley. Voigt left Rova in 1988, to be replaced by Steve Adams. Rova has been a registered not-for-profit entity since 1985, thus enabling it to commission new works and generally promote themselves and the cause of new music. Rova's music embraces a variety of contemporary techniques, from serialism and cue card-based game pieces to rock and free improvisation. The only constant in their music is the avoidance of cliché. ~ Chris Kelsey