Tchicai / D: Hope is Bright Green Up North (2003)
Two sons of Denmark, Tchicai and Dørge have been musical colleagues for going on three decades. Their long-standing friendship makes this match-up seem almost like second nature. Curiously enough it’s their first trio recording in nearly as much time, the last being The Real Tchicai, a '77 date for Steeplechase with bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pederson in tow. CIMP session man Lou Grassi is the newcomer to the fold, but his neophyte status dissolves in the sympathetic rapport he achieves through his drums. The program is a beautiful blend of originals and improvisations that touches beautifully on the talents of each of the three. CIMP sonics work well in the context of the trio with Dørge’s crisply amplified frets escaping the usual audio obfuscations of the Spirit Room.
Tall and wiry with long drawn features, Tchicai strikes a formidable figure in person. A similar stature translates through to his horns. On the opening “Farewell Wilber,” voiced in eulogy to the bassist Wilber Morris, who succumbed to cancer shortly before the session, Tchicai’s tenor affects a diffusively mournful tone pocked by surges of anguished overblowing. Dørge moves from scraped strings to prickly picking, lacing his note clusters with ferrous hues, while Grassi scares up a splashing fusillade of stick spray.
“Biciclo” is bright and hopeful by contrast; build on an Asian-derived melodic core, forwarded mainly by Dørge’s delicate single note elaborations. Tchicai weaves and bobs around this thematic center, reveling in the lower registers of his horn and belting out a beautifully expressive counterpoint, as Grassi carves out a loping cadence from snare and cymbals. “Loop for Susan R.” marks the first of only a handful of missteps, a ballad that begins promisingly with the subdued tandem of tenor and guitar, but stumbles into a circular harmonic rut for most of its duration. Grassi’s overly bombastic drums punch further holes in what might have been a more cohesive piece had the players sustained their opening lyricism for the duration.
Despite dazzling fretwork from Dørge and a contemplative turn from Tchicai’s bass clarinet, the trio also falters a bit on the group improv “3+2.” The problem stems again from a continuous treading of thin harmonic ground, leaving the feeling of wide-open spaces in need of filling. Grassi, not usually prone to written charts, contributes the topically poignant composition “Ballad of 9/11.” It’s really more an extended tone poem, stocked with atmospheric improvisatory stanzas by each of the men. Tchicai’s tenor is again a vessel of sadness and regret, speaking porous phrases against the ringing swells of Dørge’s strings. Grassi adds mostly color and texture from his kit, accelerating to a more propulsive trajectory for the closing minutes.
The trio carries the viscerally charged mood directly into Tchicai’s “News For Lou,” a raucous round robin that finds the three players in a playfully pugilistic mode. African strains arise out of the marching snare beats of Dørge’s “Sumolle,” a chance for the guitarist and Tchicai to once again slug it out in amicable style. Closing with the collective improv “Time to Stretch” and Tchicai’s densely packed “Claire to Claremont,” another ear popping feature for Dørge’s felicitous plectrum.
Judging on the strong merits of Tchicai and Dørge’s reunion, a gap of three decades seems far too long between recordings. Gratitude is due the CIMP crew for making it happen. Listeners hopefully won’t have to wait so long for a follow-up, but in the interim the strong sounds herein will certainly suffice in satiating the hungry.
CIMP on the web: http://www.cadencebuilding.com
Track Listing: Farewell Wilbur/ Biciclo/ Loop for Susan R./ 3+2/ Ballad of 9/11/ News From Lou/ Sumolle/ Time to Stretch/ Claria to Claremont.
Personnel: John Tchicai- tenor saxophone; Pierre D