Saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase is perhaps best known for holding down the baritone sax chair in the Boston area's under-appreciated ten man Either/Orchestra. Working now with a pianoless quintet, he's hooked up with Boxholder Records for a live double CD, Play Free or Die. A live one indeed. It's an energized set, something akin to an Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry/Dewey Redman sound, and if you approach live recordings with some trepidation – due to historically poor sound quality, absymal mixes, and irritatingly distracting crowd noises – fear not. John Turner, the set's bassist, sound engineer, and recordist, captured the energy and freshness of live performance with near studio-quality sound.
"Pigpile" opens the disc with trumpeter John Carlson working alone, whining around a plunger mute for a minute, until the ensemble – saxophones, bass and drums – looms in to build to a channeled three horn cacophony.
It's a free jazz atmosphere, though accessible to anyone who's familiar with that genre, and while "Grasping at Straws" has a bleak and lonely sound, "Doom is Yours" and "Doom is Mine" (24 minutes' worth; two parts of the "Doom Suite") radiate sonic adenaline.
Bassist John Turner stands out on the latter track, propulsive and free-blowing, working a deeply ominous groove, rounding out a tune that could serve as a soundtrack for Edgar Allen Poe's "Tell Tale Heart," the horns acting as three increasingly maniacal narrators.
The second disc opens in a mainstream mode with Sun Ra's "Super Bronze," capable of passing for a three-horn Charlie Parker Dial Records session, followed by Monk's always beautiful "Crepuscule with Nellie," played with reverence and sounding like the composer himself on Monk's Music.
Then there's "The Mad Suite," fifty-plus minutes of take-no-prisoners free jazz with driving rhythms and bellicose horns, moments of relative mainstream sound interspersed with wild saxophone wails that'll peel the enamel off your teeth. And I mean that in the best possible way.
One of the year's outstanding live sets.
Contact Boxholder Records at Boxholdr@aol.com
Track Listing: Pigpile, Grasping at Sttaws, Doom is Yours, Doom is Mine, It's Just the tip of the Icebox, Super Bronze, Crepuscule with Nellie, "The Mad Suite": Mad, Framework, Play Free or Die, The Brink
Personnel: Charlie Kohlhase--alto, tenor, and baritone sax; Matt Langley--tenor sax; John Carlson--trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn; John Turner--bass; Eric Rossenthal--drums