John Tchicai: Four Ways


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New York Art Quartet
Old Stuff

John Tchicai's Five Points
One Long Minute
Nu Bop

John Tchicai
In Monk's Mood

Various Artists
Treader Duos

With nearly 50 years of recording, Danish saxophonist John Tchicai has a lot of history behind him. Forward looking from the start, he moved to New York in 1963, hooking up with players of the-then emerging avant-garde. His early work was enough to get the Coltrane imprimatur and an appearance on Ascension (Impulse, 1965). He co-led the New York Contemporary 5 with Archie Shepp and Don Cherry and then formed the New York Art Quartet (NYAQ) with Roswell Rudd and Milford Graves. Eventually he moved back to Denmark, dividing extended periods in the US (on both coasts) with time spent in Holland, France and elsewhere. He's amassed an extensive discography. These four recent releases present him in a variety of contexts and are indicative of what a complete player he is.

The New York Art Quartet only released two LPs in its brief existence (1964-66). Around 1970, there was an LP released by the French America label (of dodgy provenance) by the band featured on this latest NYAQ release but under Rudd's name. But that recording was of less than optimum sound quality and a typical lousy French pressing of the time. So the release of Old Stuff is a welcome event. It stems from the band's final period when Tchicai had moved back to Denmark and booked a tour. Only Rudd made the transatlantic crossing and Tchicai enlisted bassist Finn von Eyben and South African expatriate Louis Moholo-Moholo. This definitely changes the character of the rhythm section, with Moholo's drumming far more straightforward than Graves' polyrhythmic barrage. But what's preserved is the wonderful dichotomy between Tchicai's tart, angular alto and Rudd's big, blustery trombone. Both were also writing substantive themes with unusual improvising strategies, not just head-solo-head. Old Stuff collates two Copenhagen concerts: one recorded at the Café Montmartre and the other for a Danish radio concert. The band connects beautifully, despite the impromptu rhythm section and it's a worthy addition to this band's slim discography.

Tchicai's most productive partnership during the last decade was a cooperative trio he had with saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase and guitarist Garrison Fewell. John Tchicai's Five Points is a quintet with Fewell, fellow reed player Alex Weiss, bassist Dmitry Ishenko and drummer Ches Smith. Surprisingly One Long Minute was recorded after only two live performances but the band sounds seasoned, without an ounce of tentativeness. Each member except Ishenko contributes compositions and the band really seems inspired by each other's efforts. Tchicai gets off a fiery solo on Smith's "Anxiety Disorder" and his bass clarinet (uncredited) roams deeply on Fewell's "Venus." Weiss' arrangement of the theme to Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" is just a brief theme statement but fits perfectly into the program. Tchicai's "Parole Ambulante" is a typical languid theme delivered over a free rhythm with beautiful voicings given sonic depth by Ishenko's arco bass work. One wonders what this band will sound like by the time of the next disc.

One of the more admirable qualities of Tchicai is his seeming willingness to move out of his comfort zone and collaborate with unexpected players. In Monk's Mood places him in that very situation. This session was suggested by SteepleChase labelhead Nils Winther and the rhythm section (keyboardist George Colligan, bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Billy Drummond) are current stalwarts of the label but had never played with Tchicai. But they speak a common language, Thelonious Monk, as this mostly all Monk program demonstrates. Tchicai approaches the jazz tradition with the same sense of adventure he approaches the fringes of that music. And the rhythm sectioneers are willing participants on this ride. There are plenty of surprising interludes: the beautiful pointillistic breakdown in the middle of Monk's only waltz "Ugly Beauty"; the framing versions of "Monk's Mood," one with the full quartet and the closing version as a trio sans drums. Even the decision to have Colligan play a Hammond B-3 on half of these tracks was apparently made at the last minute. It was Winther's request that Tchicai play alto sax, rather than his preferred tenor (since the late '70s). In Monk's Mood is a wonderful and unexpected addition to Tchicai's discography.

Finally, Treader Duos is a collection of three reed/drum duets from three different pairings. The other two tracks match the always-remarkable John Butcher with Mark Sanders and clarinetist Alex Ward with percussion master Roger Turner. At 25 minutes each, these are complete performances and make for a worthwhile document on the state of the reed/drums duet. The one pertinent to this review is "We Dare To Sing" which finds Tchicai matched with British drummer Tony Marsh, who's worked with Harry Beckett, Mike Westbrook and Evan Parker among others. It presents Tchicai at his freest and the performance finds him initially singing with an almost shamanistic fervor that translates to his playing. Tchicai, on tenor, draws on his complete vocabulary engaging in repetition, bittersweet doleful phrases and rapturous shouts. Marsh is an inventive percussionist and although the two had never performed before, they meet on an intuitive level, speaking the same language much like the Monk disc above. Towards the end Tchicai switches to bass clarinet (again uncredited) for a quiet interlude that Marsh accompanies with cymbal washes and muted brushwork, a wonderful end to a great performance.

Tracks and Personnel

Old Stuff

Tracks: Rosmosis; Sweet Smells; Old Stuff; Pannonica; Kvintus T; Pa Tirsdag; Old Stuff; Cool Eyes; Sweet V; Karin's Blues; Kirsten.

Personnel: John Tchicai: alto saxophone; Roswell Rudd: trombone; Finn von Eyben: bass; Louis Moholo: drums.

One Long Minute

Tracks: Venus; Anxiety Disorder; Yojimbo; Glass Houses And Gift Horses; One Long Minute; Spectronomous; Parole Ambulante.

Personnel: John Tchicai: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Alex Weiss: tenor saxophone; alto saxophone; percussion; Garrison Fewell: guitar, percussion, bow; Dmitry Ishenko: bass; Ches Smith: drums.

In Monk's Mood

Tracks: Monk's Mood; Coming On The Hudson; Light Blue; Ugly Beauty; Round About Midnight; Coop Copy; Easy Street; Ruby, My Dear; Aks(sic) Him Now; Monk's Mood.

Personnel: John Tchicai: alto saxophone; George Colligan: piano Hammond B3 organ; Steve LaSpina: bass; Billy Drummond: drums.

Treader Duos

Tracks: Tooth Pivot; The Pews; We Dare To Sing.

Personnel: (on Tooth) John Butcher: tenor saxophone; soprano saxophone; Mark Sanders: drums; (on Pews) Alex Ward: clarinet; Roger Turner: drums; (on We Dare) John Tchicai: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, voice; Tony Marsh: drums.

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