Back in 1977, as the punk rock revolution swept through the music world, starting a band with a complete lineup of four saxophones didn’t seem the shortest path to fame. But fame was never the goal of Rova Saxophone Quartet, which set out to change the way music was played. It has long been acclaimed as one of the major forces in improvised music. “We started by rebelling against the jazz approach of playing the head, then everyone takes turn soloing,” says Rova’s Bruce Ackley. “We put improvisation into the overall scheme of the piece, and work with all members as equal collaborators in the process.” Twenty-eight years on, the four Rova reedsmen (Ackley, Larry Ochs, Jon Raskin, and Steve Adams) are getting back to basics, in a manner of speaking, as they return to Yoshi’s for two concerts on Monday after a three-year absence from the Bay Area’s premier jazz club. Rarely does Rova play a home-turf gig, and usually it’s in an expanded grouping such as last year’s San Francisco Jazz Festival production of “Ascension,” the quartet’s reimaging of John Coltrane’s monumental composition performed by a dozen improvisers, including Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and violinists Jenny Scheinman and Carla Kihlstedt. This month’s eight-country European tour will find them doing “Ascension,” combining with big bands, and in Venice adding two drummers.
“So we’re really looking forward to getting back to just the four of us at Yoshi’s,” Ackley says. “We have so many new pieces that both shows will be completely different, and we’ve been doing a lot of graphic scores that we want to work on.” Graphic scores? “Pieces with nontraditional notation,” he explains. “They use visual imagery on the page that influences what we play.” Very few groups in jazz, improv, or classical music can boast of a nearly-three-decade relationship, and as Ackley says, “We’ve been doing it so long that we’re no longer out to prove how ‘out’ we are. We did that. So we can play whatever we feel like, even something that’s beautiful or that swings.” Tickets are $16 (8 p.m. show) and $10 (10 p.m.) at Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland. 510-238-9200, or go to Yoshis.com — Larry Kelp
A dreamweaver. A silk-screening pyromaniac. The “undisputed ruler of Antarctica.” An unabashed “heavy metal propagandist.” A schoolteacher who enjoys eating noodles. What do they all have in common? They’re all comic-book artists — some are also graphic designers, commercial and fine artists, and painters — and they’ll all be featured Friday at Literature of the Future at Berkeley’s Pegasus Books, 2349 Shattuck Ave. Express readers no doubt know Jesse Reklaw, who draws Slow Wave; the exhibit also features such local talents as Alixopulos, Josh Frankel, Andy Hartznell, John Isaacson, Briana Miller, Thien Pham (I Like Eating, also in the Express), Lark Pien, and Joe Sayers. 8 p.m., free. Info: PegasusBookstore.com — Eric K. Arnold
All Punked Up
Please excuse Fatal Flying Guilloteens for their complete lack of subtlety in choosing a band name. It gets the point across rather graphically, while perhaps conjuring images of a Columbine-style massacre starring Sonny Chiba and directed by Tsui Hark. The Houston-based band’s distortion-laced, overly aggressive, strangely compelling music (sample title: “10 Degrees Below Fucking”) offers as much of a cheap thrill as a Hong Kong chopsocky fest. They play Oakland’s Stork Club (2330 Telegraph Ave.) Thursday, along with Tokyo’s DMBQ (DMBQ.net) and Oaktown’s Battleship. Visit FatalFlyingGuilloteens.com for audio clips and Monty Python-esque animation. — Eric K. Arnold
When you ask four artists to riff on the concept of play, watch out — they’ll reach unheard-of levels of whimsicality, as in the new exhibition at the Oakland Art Gallery, Playful Poetics. Bill Laven, for example, printed his product art for a model-airplane kit, B-52 Stratofortress; and Walter Robinson’s squishy little animals (left) even shit cutely. The show, curated by Sherry Apostol, has its opening reception Thursday (5-8 p.m.), and there’s an artists’ talk with Laven, Robinson, Deborah Oropallo, and Griff WIlliams, on November 10. The gallery is in the shadow of Oakland City Hall at 199 Kahn’s Alley. For more info: OaklandArtGallery.org — Kelly Vance