On its first two recordings the San Francisco-based trio What We Live has quickly set an impressive standard for flexibility, gracefully bridging the gap between a highly nuanced free improvisation and a sometimes brawny but always expressive freebop. Drummer Donald Robinson, bassist Lisle Ellis (the Canadian expat best known for his stellar duo with pianist Paul Plimley), and saxophonist Larry Ochs (a longtime member of the ROVA sax quartet) truly perform as a unit, conveying a deep sense of intuition and empathy. Ellis wields his broad, woody sound with remarkable dexterity and gorgeous sensitivity; his interactions with Ochs and Robinson achieve a rare instinctive power. Ochs has shown many times that his technical mastery and composing skills (a la Anthony Braxton) are matched by the emotional power of his solos, and he doesn’t disappoint in this setting. Robinson is a Bay Area vet who swings like a mofo when appropriate but otherwise limns phrases, reacts to ever-changing gambits, and prods the others on without disrupting the proceedings. The group’s eponymous debut on the Japanese DIW label is the better of its two recordings in terms of straight-up jazz-trio goods, but the more recent What We Live Fo(u)r (Black Saint) is a better indication of the group’s elasticity. Joined by a variety of guest musicians (hence the “four”), the trio is able to transform itself to match the style of each guest–creating a driving postbop with clarinetist Ben Goldberg, an Eastern-tinged delicacy with koto player Miya Masaoka, and a pulsing, meditative throb with violinist India Cooke. In its Chicago debut the group will play two shows, each with a local guest. This week it’s Jeff Parker, hands down the most talented new guitarist in Chicago and a guaranteed major player on the international scene within a few years. The following Wednesday the terrific trombonist Jeb Bishop, who’s been heard recently with the Vandermark 5, will sit in. Wednesday, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 276-3600.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo l-r:Lisa di Primo, Laurence m. Svirchev, Helmut Fruhauf.