Charlie Kohlhase's Explorer's Club: Adventures (2009)
Adventures is the high-energy first release of Explorer's Club, led by accomplished saxophonist and composer Charlie Kohlhase. The septet includes a guitarist, bassist, two drummers, two saxophonists, and trombonist. Kohlhase puts together their expertise to produce an impressive range of instrumental combinations, timbres, and textures in the outside-but-accessible style for which he's known.Kohlhase's compositions (all but three tracks) describe the escapades of alternative superheroes and other unique characters. While Kohlhase's liner notes evoke comic-strip character Caspar Milquetoast, the main motif of "Jasper Jaguar/Deceptor" recalls Henry Mancini's theme for another alliteratively-named feline, "The Pink Panther." The expanded rhythm section stands out as Jef Charland starts a sustained bass tremolo that's joined by Eric Hofbauer's guitar and then by Miki Matsuki and Chris Punis on snare drum rolls.
While its mock-horror title is amusing, "Thryllkyll on the Schyllkyll/Psychopath on the Cyclepath" conveys a real sense of compulsion. Following his long baritone sax solo, Kohlhase starts a cyclical figure on a descending mixolydian scale as Jef Galindo on trombone and Matt Langley on tenor sax solo join the repeating figures propelled by rhythmic displacement.
Despite their opposing conversational styles, "Loquator & Taciturnator" seem to be on familiar terms. After a tenor sax soliloquy, the horns play the hard-boppish theme. At the high point, the loquacious sax is answered by a terse guitar, harmonized in pungent seconds.
In "The Alarm Clock Is My Only Kryptonite," the sleeper is a superhero in his dreams. Unearthly murmurs and yawns first arise from muted baritone sax, then from guitar, and finally from muted bass, while the shifting scenarios are laid down by drums and bass.
In "Superhero Beatdown," the bold opening theme is punctuated by ominous trills. As the hero meets unexpected challenges, tension builds to chaotic simultaneous improvisation, and the hero's theme announces his triumph. "Utensor" resolves domestic and global disorder with household utensils. The horns play a melody of irregular phrases that's intensified by octave-plus jumps on rising degrees of the scale.
After an expansive free-form introduction by two saxophones, "The Star of the Show" explodes into a slamming groove under a staccato melody in harmonic minor, reminiscent of "Blue Pepper" from Duke Ellington's Far East Suite (RCA, 1967). Each two-phrase segment of the funky theme (representing James Brown, the "star" of the title) is answered by an unaccompanied horn interlude. Hofbauer plays a memorable guitar solo.
The renowned John Tchicai, a Kohlhase cohort, provides two compositions. The subtle but driving "Stealing Beauty/Potuder Time" suggests an orchestral interlude, its diatonic passages and triadic chords recalling classical-period Stravinsky. Tchicai's "Decide for Yourself" starts off with a march-like melody and then features the two drummers, who alternate solos and duets.
Bassist Charland gives a sly nod to the leader with his composition "Kohlhase and Forever," a take-off on the pop tune "Always and Forever." Hofbauer's guitar solo opens quietly in free-tempo musing, and horns harmonize in sixths over rolling drums.
This recording's imagination and teamwork prompt anticipation of the future adventures of Charlie Kohlhase's Explorer's Club.
Track Listing: Jasper Jaguar/Deceptor; Kohlhase and Forever; Loquator & Taciturnator; The Alarm Clock Is My Only Kryptonite; Stealing Beauty/Potuder Time; Thryllkyll on the Schyllkyll/Psychopath on the Cyclepath; Decide for Yourself; Superhero Beatdown; Utensor; The Star of the Show.
Personnel: Charlie Kohlhase: alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Matt Langley: tenor and soprano saxophones; Jeff Galindo: trombone; Eric Hofbauer: guitar; Jef Charland: bass; Eric Hofbauer: guitar; Jef Charland: bass; Chris Punis: drums.