John Tchicai / Charlie Kohlhase / Garrison Fewell: Good Night Songs (2006)
These three protagonists set out their case for a trio of multiple reeds, guitar and percussion, and in doing so present a programme of music which is as idiosyncratic in itself as that lineup might suggest. On a more fundamental level, they also show that the plurality of improvised music can come up with some cogently individual statements of lasting value.
John Tchicai has a pedigree that goes back to the likes of Coltrane and Ayler, and even in the days when he was working with those two iconoclasts, he had a voice of his own. He proves that's still the case on "Lilanto Del Indio, one of only two compositions on this two-disc set not penned by one of the group members. Now a tenor sax player after switching from alto quite a few years ago, he shows an innate grasp of both form and understatement. "Thriftshopping" also shows him to be a composer of no little individuality.
Given the lineup, many readers might imagine that guitarist Garrison Fewell shoulders too heavy a burden, harmonically speaking, but this music has as much in common with chamber music as any more informal idiom. The harp-like sonorities he coaxes from his instrument on his own "The Queen Of Ra call to mind the work of Claude Debussy, for example, at the same time as he stays right within the group's overall identity.
As if to emphasise what a meeting of minds this was, Kohlhase brings his own musical personality to the proceedings, while instinctively subordinating it to the very special demands of this group, which begs a rhetorical question: if that's an easy feat to pull off, how come so few musicians can manage it? His use of space and choice of notes are integral parts of this highly individual music.
The results have a feeling of both light and space, at the same time as they're grounded in some reality other than all-out blowing and what might once have been described as "ecstatic jazz" by marketing types too ignorant to know any better. Music that yields its secrets only slowly, as is the case here, will always make for stimulating listening.
Track Listing: CD1: Floating; The Queen Of Ra; Thriftshopping; Undercurrent; Ramana Maharshi. CD2: On Fait La Taille; X-Ray Vision; Start To Finish; Lilanto Del Indio; Consolation Cake.
Personnel: John Tchicai: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, voice, percussion; Charlie Kohlhase: alto, tenor, baritone saxophones; Garrison Fewell: guitar, chopsticks, slide, percussion.