Of all the collaborations in the later years of legendary reedman John Tchicai, some of the most fertile were in the company of guitarist Garrison Fewell, whether under the Dane's leadership like One Long Minute (NuBop, 2012) and Big Chief Dreaming (Soul Note, 2005) or in undocumented appearances with the guitarist's Variable Density Sound Orchestra. Joining the pair on Good Night Songs (Boxholder, 2006), Boston-based saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase completed a formidable unit. For the week long engagement at New York's Birdland in 2007, from which Tribal Ghost stems, Tchicai added a stellar rhythm section comprising Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums, to the core trio.
Although attention tends to center on Tchicai, who died at age 76 in October 2012 from complications after a stroke, the restrained passion and simmering interplay of the ensemble form the main talking point here. There's no showboating. Everyone focuses on what the music needs to succeed. Fewell's elegant poised lyricism shines from every track, while the hornmen's subtle and near telepathic interaction proves at least as noteworthy as their not inconsiderable spells in the spotlight. Both McBee, who sets out his robust underpinning in a tone so deep it is almost subterranean, and Hart, who displays an engaging timbral wisdom, don't put a foot wrong as they switch easily between graceful swing and swirling rubato.
Fewell contributes the first three cuts on the 36-minute LP, while Tchicai penned the fourth. The guitarist sets up an opulent groove on the title track, picked up by interlocking layers of bass, drums and Kohlhase's gruff baritone saxophone. Tchicai doesn't make an entrance until four-minutes in, but then smears incantatory drawn out phrases which hang soulfully over the band's irrepressible momentum. On "The Queen of Ra" Kohlhase sets out a tenor statement full of understated staccato anguish, while later on the same piece, Tchicai's mournful expressiveness comes tempered by the bubbling commentary of Fewell and McBee. The melancholy feel continues on the B side, kicked off by a compelling dirge which turns somberly processional in "Dark Matter" although the Latin-tinged "Llanto Del Indio" takes out this fine disc with spirit in a hypnotic grind.
Tribal Ghost; The Queen of RA; Dark Matter; Llanto Del Indio.
John Tchicai: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Carlie Kohlhase: alto,
tenor and baritone saxophones; Garrison Fewell: guitar and percussion;
Cecil McBee: bass; Billy Hart: drums.