Much continues to be written about the global reach of jazz. Vibrant jazz scenes are scattered around the world in what might have been considered unlikely locations in years past, like Slovenia, the Ukraine, and Scandinavia. While each region brings its own cultural viewpoint into play, some of the most intriguing music happens when artists from different scenes meet on neutral territory.
Saxophonist John Tchicai grew up in Denmark, but first came to prominence in '60s New York, where he lived for a few years, playing and recording with artists like Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, and Archie Shepp. Tchicai returned home for the next 25 years, but he would ultimately land in the San Francisco Bay Area. Conversely, guitarist Garrison Fewell was born and raised in the United States but has garnered a greater reputation teaching and performing in festivals across Europe.
Intended to be the first of many collaborations between Tchicai and Fewell, Big Chief Dreaming teams them with three Italian playerssaxophonist Tino Tracanna, bassist Paolino Dalla Porta, and drummer Massimo Manzi. Everyone (with the exception of Dalla Porta) contributes compositions, in addition to participating in a number of freely improvised duos and trios that, in their clear intent and chemistry, sound more like spontaneous compositions than unrestrained anarchy.
Some players come to a session with a fixed view of how things should be, while others approach each encounter as an opportunity to create something collectively new, something they might not do if left solely to their own devices. And while everyone's musical personalities are in clear evidence, the way that they affect and to some extent reshape each others' approaches makes Big Chief Dreaming such a successful collaboration.
Tchicai, for example, continues to explore ways to bring traditional music together with an exploratory aesthetic, but here his playing is more lyrical and less extreme than those familiar with his work may be accustomed to hear. "Prayer for the Right Guidance centres on a primal drum beat that is considerably more complex than it seems, as metres shift constantly throughout, demonstrating an idiosyncratic approach that's characteristic of all Tchicai's pieces on the disc. Fewell retains the clean hollowbody tone that has been his signature, but here he's stretched into freer territory on pieces including the title track, an open improvisation between himself, Tchicai, and Manzi. While there's a strong thematic underpinning to his compositions, the quintet makes them more elastic, opening them up to more liberal interpretation.
Elsewhere, Tracanna contributes the most straight-ahead compositions. "Simplicity is aptly named for its basic two-chord vamp, relaxed swing, and lyrical theme. And when he teams with Fewell for the improvised duets "Instant Intuition and "Grappa to Go, he's considerably closer to the centre than Tchicai.
As a demonstration of how players from different aesthetics can come together and find common ground, Big Chief Dreaming manages to be both successful and surprisingly approachable. If this is any indication, future collaborations between Tchicai and Fewell will be well worth investigating.
Track Listing: Instant Intuition; Prayer for the Right Guidance; Big Chief Dreaming; Simplicity; The Queen of Ra; Thrift Shopping + Extension; Basetto; X-Ray Vision; Grappa to Go; Splinters No. 1; Haengende Skaerm; Yogi in Disguise
Personnel: John Tchicai (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Garrison Fewell (guitar); Tino Tracanna (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Paolino Dalla Porta (bass); Massimo Manzi (drums)