Kihnoua 2012

Larry Ochs and Kihnoua perform Sat., March 17 in Berkeley and March 23-30 on the east coast and in the midwest. Details below.

KihnouaThe Sybil’s Whisper (Metalanguage, 2012)

Larry Ochs is taking his Kihnoua trio back on the road. As usual, it’s the core lineup: Ochs (sax), Dohee Lee (vocals), and Scott Amendola (drums), plus one guest player. In this case, it’s bassist Trevor Dunn, taking the spot of Wilbert DeJoode, the Dutch bassist who’s the fourth member on the newly released album, The Sybil’s Whisper.

Ochs describes the music as having roots in both jazz/blues and in ancient musics from Korea and elsewhere. Both sides can be heard in Ochs’ sax playing, which sticks to free-jazz connotations with some “world”-music touches.

Dohee Lee’s vocals tend to be a defining element, though. Often, a piece’s mood seems to be outlined mostly by her and by Amendola’s drumming.

The Sybil’s Whisper opens calmly with the even-keeled “Flutter,” where Lee lets long tones drift in the air, with Ochs’ sax responding in a way that’s almost mimicking the human voice.

“Grip Bone,” by contrast, uses gruff and choppy sax above a torrent from Amendola and DeJoode, a spirited free-jazz attack. It ends furiously, with Lee growling out a nonsense monologue that flips between American and Eastern European “accents,” and Amendola creating a blur behind Ochs and DeJoode’s playing.

“Erase the Sky” is built around a steady tribal pulse by Amendola, with Lee barking out stern syllables and Ochs, now on tenor sax, soloing colorfully. DeJoode is featured for most of the track, playing spirited arco bass against the ensemble’s fast but restrained mood, or moving into clacking, percussive territory for a louder and harsher passage.

“in progress…” draws a lot from Asian influence. It’s the piece with the greatest amount of stillness, even during a loud but restrained drum solo that paves the way for some of Lee’s most traditional-sounding vocalizing. (By which I mean, she’s doing something close to the traditional chants of Japanese ritual. I have no idea if she’s consciously invoking any particular tradition, and in fact I doubt it.) Ochs re-enters on sopranino with bright, springlike phrases — sun through the clouds — and it all ends with Amendola splashing madly on cymbals while Lee’s vocals intensify but stay restrained.

The Kihnoua tour schedule is up on Larry Ochs’ web site ( Here it is in replica. All shows include Trevor Dunn except the first one.

From the archives: Impressions of Kihnoua in 2010.