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John Tchicai / Charlie Kohlhase / Garrison Fewell: Good Night Songs

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Justly renowned since the 1960s as one of the most lyrical and imaginative players in the avant-garde, Afro-Danish reedman John Tchicai shows no signs of diminishing creativity, although he recently celebrated his 70th birthday. He has collaborated with Boston-area musicians Charlie Kohlhase and Garrison Fewell in several contexts, but this tour was the first time the three had worked as a trio.

Tchicai plays tenor sax and bass clarinet; Kohlhase tenor, alto and baritone saxophones; Fewell guitar, chopsticks (!) and slide. Both Tchicai and Fewell are credited with percussion, too, though I'll be darned if I can hear any. Recorded live by Michael Ehlers at the Unitarian Meeting House in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 13, 2003—the last night of the tour—this two-CD set documents an intimate and conversational evening of music.

In addition to producing the recording, Fewell's roles in this stripped-down ensemble are myriad. Sometimes he contributes bassy strumming a la another Garrison, Jimmy that is. Sometimes he shadows the reed players with quicksilver single-note lines. Sometimes his rich chording provides almost pianistic accompaniment/interaction. And when he skitters off into the ether on the free segments, look out! Like Kevin O'Neil, his technique is complete and not locked into a particular era, genre or style.

There are three compositions apiece by Tchicai and Kohlhase, two by Fewell, the lengthy and ruminative "Undercurrent" by Mikko Innanen and "Lilanto Del Indio," credited as a "S. American folk tune." My favorites are the jaunty bass clarinet-guitar lope through the intro of Tchicai's "Thriftshopping" and Kohlhase's "Start to Finish," which comes across as a pointillistic abstraction of a Sonny Rollins calypso.

The only caveat to my ears is related to Tchicai's wordless vocals, which mercifully appear on only two selections. They're obviously heartfelt, but probably come off better live than on a recording.

Track Listing: Floating; The Queen of Ra; Thriftshopping; Undercurrent; Ramana Maharashi; On Fait La Taille; X-Ray Vision; Start to Finish; Lilanto Del Indio; Consolation Cake.

Personnel: John Tchicai: senor axophone, bass clarinet, voice, percussion; Charlie Kohlhase: tenor, alto, and baritone saxophones; Garrison Fewell: guitar, chopsticks, slide, percussion.

Title: Good Night Songs | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Boxholder Records

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