Tchicai/Fewell/Della Porta/Tracanna/Manzi: Big Chief Dreaming (2005)
Big Chief Dreaming is a collaborative effort of international musicians from the US, France, and Italy. Danish reedman John Tchicai, often associated with avant-garde pursuits, joins a bit more traditional quartet consisting of Bostonian guitarist Garrison Fewell and Italians Tino Tracanna (saxophones), Paolino Dalla Porta (bass), and Massimo Manzi (drums). Fewell has longstanding associations with Tracanna and Manzi. Dalla Porta, a frequent colleague of Tracanna, is one of Italy's bass masters. Compositions from group members form the program, marking the first of what one hopes will be additional fruitful recordings.
From the outset, Fewell's unadorned traditional sound on electric guitar is conspicuous. Any other flavor would have changed the overall character of the date. This is not a negative outcome by any means, rather a refreshing change from the processed guitar sounds that are so prevalent today. It contrasts beautifully with the modern adventurous nature heard throughout this date.
"Simplicity exemplifies the attraction of a well-crafted jazz ballad, languidly unfolding as Tchicai and Tracanna alternate the melody on tenor. Each man's singular tone provides ample charm for the lucid phrase. Della Porta begins the solos, followed by Tracanna. Next, Manzi and Della Porta create an absolutely perfect swing feel for Fewell's equally impressive statements. This is the real deal, folks. "Grappa to Go is a wonderfully simple duet featuring Tracanna's soprano and Fewell's guitar. A catchy seven-note melodic motif provides the framework for a bluesy tune that sticks with you long after it is completed.
Tchicai's "Yogi in Disguise is a medium bop tune with a pleasant rolling melodic line, played in unison by the tenors. Fewell and Tchicai each solo as Manzi crashes and pops away, imparting the tune with a slight sense of urgency. Dalla Porta nails the groove, once again demonstrating the precise teamwork of this rhythm section. The title cut is a rather open trio exploration that's improvised on the spot by Manzi, Tchicai, and Fewell. It is adventuresome without becoming tedious, all three listening and responding to each other with restraint, not an easy task when playing freely.
Tracanna's "Basetto begins with three distinct ideas. Taken individually, the short phrases seem quite divergent. However, the harmonic base prevails and the fellows imbue the tune with inventive playfulness. Tchicai's tenor and Tracanna's soprano shoulder the solo tasks with ease. Fewell's "X-Ray Vision is another soothing ballad, again showcasing Tchicai on tenor and Tracanna on soprano. Manzi subtlety paints this one with mallets, sticks, toms, and cymbals, adding all the right hues. "Thrift Shopping + Extension might be the set's most interesting cut. It opens with the ensemble stating the melody, followed by an extended drum solo, a quiet interlude by Fewell and Tchicai on bass clarinet, a slow ensemble march section set against Tracanna's soprano lines, and a final relaxed statement of the theme by Tchicai and Tracanna.
Superbly recorded and engineered by Paolo Fillipi, the instruments are precisely delivered and well-balanced. Each tune is marked by freshness and outstanding musicianship, making this date is worthy of deliberate attention and extended listening.
Track Listing: Instant Intuition; Prayer For 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.