OK Nok...Kongo: Moonstone Journey
On Moonstone Journey, the fine Danish avant-gardists of OK Nok...Kongo play compositions by an American expatriate and Coltrane/Shepp alum, saxophonist John Tchicai. The Danish expression "OK Nok" roughly translates to "A-OK," and "Kongo" is the African nation from which Tchicai’s father hailed. Joined by Tchicai himself, the group sets out to explore the elliptic space between comfort and unfamiliarity, between the known and the unknown.
Tchicai’s pieces range from the bright, Ornette/Don Cherry-style swing of "Moonstone Journey" and "Climbing the Mountain" to the abstraction of "The Frog and the Snake" and "Finding the Path." Somewhere in between falls the relatively relaxed, quasi-latin groove that animates "A Chaos With Some Kind of Order" and "Holy Coordinator." "Spirals of Ruby" reveals yet another of Tchicai’s facets: funk that could almost be classified as M-BASE. The final track, "Monk Me," is the only one not written by Tchicai, but rather by saxophonist Thomas Agergaard.
The soloists change from track to track, ensuring sonic variety throughout the album. Tchicai and Agergaard play dueling sopranos on "A Chaos...." Altoist Peter Fuglsang growls and swings on the title cut, while trombonist Mads Hyhne and tenorist Tchicai take turns "Climbing the Mountain." Guitarist Niclas Knudsen dons his Sonny Sharrock hat for "Finding the Path" and provides tasteful, Rosenwinkel-like comping on "Moonstone Journey" "Holy Coordinator," and "Monk Me." "The Frog and the Snake" features cornetist Kasper Tranberg, who solos unaccompanied until joined by Knudsen on guitar. (Bassist Nils Davidsen is erroneously given solo credit on this track.) "Hypothesis" is a showcase for Fuglsang on clarinet, Tchicai on tenor, and Davidsen on bass. And "At the Lotus Lake" finds Fuglsang again on clarinet weaving a slightly ominous web with Agergaard on flute.
Aside from a curiously long space in between tracks, there’s little with which to find fault. This music swings, grooves, and goes "out" in just the right proportion. The players can handle anything that’s thrown at them. And there’s humor, too, although hopefully not unintentional. Throughout "A Chaos...," several band members deliver carefully timed, cryptic spoken-word passages: "Footprints going east, some west/ Giant steps going south, nine million prints going north/ A chaos with some kind of order/ patterns in the sand made by you, by me, by dogs, cats, birds and other... creatures/ a chaos with some kind of order." Those wacky Danes.