John Tchicai | Charlie Kohlhase | Garrison Fewell | Cecil McBee | Billy Hart | Tribal Ghost | No Business Records

John Tchicai – tenor saxophone and bass clarinet on Dark Matter (left channel) | Charlie Kohlhase – alto, tenor and baritone saxophones (right channel) | Garrison Fewell – guitar and percussion | Cecil McBee – bass | Billy Hart – drums

All compositions by Garrison Fewell (Ninth World Music BMI) except Llanto del Indio by John Tchicai (Koda). Recorded live on February 9th &10th, 2007 by Vernil Rogers. Mixed by Garrison Fewell and Bob Patton, Thin Ice Productions. Mastered by Arūnas Zujus at MAMAstudios. Design by Oskaras Anosovas. Produced by Garrison Fewell and Danas Mikailionis. Co-producer – Valerij Anosov

Thanks to Gianni Valenti and Ryan Paternite at Birdland Jazz Club. Thanks to Lou Kanenstine and Boxholder Records for support of this recording

Tracklist Side A: 1. Tribal Ghost 2. The Queen of Ra | Side B: 1. Dark Matter 2. Llanto del Indio

This is a collective band

featuring John Tchicai and Charlie Kohlhase on saxophones, Garrison Fewell on guitar and percussion, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums. Recorded live at Birdland in 2007, “Tribal Ghost” opens the album with light horns and guitar floating over a subtle bed of bass and drums. There is low sounding tenor saxophone with a nice gritty sound playing over the undercurrent of the other saxophone, before both of the saxes gain momentum and reach forth. Fewell develops a slow building guitar opening to “The Queen of Ra” that reminds me of the opening of of “Shhh>Peaceful” by Miles Davis. Light bass and drums move in, with pinched alto and tenor saxophones harmonizing and weaving textures. Stuttering blasts of nasal sounding alto and tenor come in with coiled power, playing in stark relief with minimal accompaniment of bowed bass. On “Dark Matter” sombre horns and guitar weave through the music over patient and thoughtful bass and drums, while “Llanto del Indio” ends this live concert with a slow and mysterious opening for guitar and horns, harmonizing in a spectral and haunted manner. Horns move around each other like a double helix, with subtle guitar accents coloring the music further. The album features very light percussion by Billy Hart who plays in a very subtle and shape shifting manner. Fewell has an appealing tone, moving through and weaving in and out if the music. Tchicai and Kohlhase play at a slow burn throughout and the mystical – spiritual – incantatory vibe suits the music well. This is a fine collective album, quiet and thoughtful, played at a summering level which allows space for all voices to be heard, it’s a cooperative group where no one dominates. — Tim Niland


Only at the end of his career John Tchicai

a man who played with Albert Ayler and John Coltrane and who was one of the great voices in free jazz, was allowed to have his first and only weeklong residency at a New York Jazz club, the Birdland. For the concerts Tchicai (ts, b-cl) expanded his trio consisting of Charlie Kohlhase (as, ts, baritone-sax) and Garrison Fewell (g) with Cecil McBee (b) and Billy Hart (dr) because this was the only precondition the Birdland booker had. Tchicai chose these two legends because according to the liner notes he wanted someone who “could play time, could swing and play free”. And what an excellent decision that was!

“Tribal Ghost” is an outstanding album breathing the spirit of jazz history with every tone. You can hear the voices of John Coltrane (of course) and Pharoah Sanders, but also Lee Konitz and Jimmy Giuffre while Garrison Fewell’s sound, which is the secret sensation on this album, reminds of Wes Montgomery, Billy Bauer or even Grant Green. And all these influences are used to create the most beautiful music.

The first track, “Tribal Ghost”, starts with Tchicai, Kohlhase, and particularly Fewell in the focus building up a meditative atmosphere and immediately you can sense this feverish spirituality, this exuberant jubilation, this worshipping of the old masters, this deep rootage in the blues, this magnificent lyricism – something that pervades the whole album, as well as the fact that the tracks are full of surprises: in “Tribal Ghost” the musicians stop all of a sudden, just to reinvent the track as a funk/jazz stomper with Tchicai and McBee holding a hypnotic beat while Kohlhase, who is the actual tribal ghost here, conjures a higher power with Fewell throwing in sharp licks, riffs and thrills.

“The Queen of Ra”, a piece Fewell wrote for Tchicai, also begins in a dark and somber mood with a bowed bass, guitar arpeggios and glockenspiel before Tchicai and Kohlhase break up the atmosphere with a cool jazz theme. The whole piece reminds of a ritual service, especially when McBee leaves his function of maintaining the pulse just to battle with Kohlhase, pushing him to a marvelous solo full of melancholic, angry, expressive and energetic cries.

“Dark Matter”, a piece which was inspired by John Carter’s “Castles of Ghana”, swings almost harmlessly and elegantly but there is also a latent dangerous temptation. It also contains the most beautiful theme on this album.

Yet, the last piece, “Llanto Del Indio” (the only composition by John Tchicai, the others are written by Fewell), is the highlight of the album. After a brief introduction McBee takes on a soulful groove (according to Fewell it was not planned) and the saxes and the guitar seem to dance around each other like children in heavenly joyful ecstasy – innocent and tender, one of these musical moments you want to last forever.

It is all the more tragic that John Tchicai, a man like a tree, died last year recovering from a brain hemorrhage. His last words on this album are: “Have a good life and thanks for spending some time with us. We hope to meet you again sometime in the future.” Unfortunately, not in this world.
The album, which was recorded on February 9th and 10th in 2007, is available as a limited vinyl edition of 1000 copies. — Martin Schray


The only reason why I did hesitate to give this album a five-star rating

is because it is so short, and indeed, only thirty-five minutes long, but what you get is so good, so subtle, so beautiful and sensitive and jazzy and free that the listener cannot complain at all. Even with its short length, you get more than value for money.

Martin has already reviewed this album, so I will not repeat what he wrote. I justed wanted to emphasise the fact that the band is absolutely outstanding, with John Tchicai on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Charlie Kohlhase on alto, tenor and baritone sax, Garrison Fewell on guitar, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums.

“Queen of Ra” and “Llanto Del Indio” already appear on the amazing “Good Night Songs”, a collaboration of Fewell, Tchicai and Kohlase, but then without a rhythm section, which makes the tunes more intimate and introspective. “Llanto Del Indio” has been released on the New York Art Quartet’s “35th Reunion” CD (2000), with Rosewell Rudd on trombone, and on “Cadencia Nova Danica”.

“Queen Of Ra”, also featured on “Big Chief Dreaming”, an album from 2005 on which Fewell and Tchicai are the lead voices, in a quintet similar to this one, and yet, the version on “Tribal Ghost” is so much more subtle and compelling, in a way that’s hard to describe, yet it somehow gels better.

The beginning of the second side starts with the introduction of “Venus”, which also features on “One Long Minute” (2009), and then expands into “Dark Matter”, an equally riveting slow theme, full of grace and sadness.

So if all these tunes have been played before, what makes them so unique now?

First of all, the overall consistency of sound and quality throughout the album is amazing.

Second, the entire band is excellent at any give moment. Tchicai and Kohlhase are fabulous in their controlled passion, McBee and Hart are an incredible rhythm section, adding pulse and dynamics that few of the previous recordings had, but the real star of the album is Fewell. Yes, we already knew he is an excellent guitarist, but what he does here is stunning, playing as jazzy as it gets, yet adding little touches and notes, a chord here, an accent there, absolutely controlled and expressive and precise and … just right. And so slow and accurate … many guitarists could take a lesson here.

Third, the whole album adds a kind of intimacy to the John Coltrane legacy of expansive and epic post-bop and free jazz. It is a kind of down to earth, more human, more humanistic approach to Coltrane’s exploration of the universe. It is tribal as the title suggests, yet then of the introspective rather than the exuberant kind.

This album is as cool as it is hot! Highly recommended. — Stef


Photo by Jacob Ehrbahn

Late saxophonist John Tchicai’s roots and influences

emanated with the 1960s innovative free-jazz ensemble, The New York Art Quartet. He became a significant global artist in all things considered to be cutting-edge within the ever-expansive jazz vernacular. This 2007 concert, recorded at the New York City venue Birdland, features compositions by guitarist Garrison Fewell and one track written by Tchicai. Ultimately, the album is unique from a perspective that includes sojourns into the avant jazz space, while containing memorably melodic themes, often standing as reference points amid the all-star group’s improvisational dialogues. Thus, many free-form outings customarily reside in either total abstraction, or at times, meld dissonance with faint doses of melody. In a loose sense, Tribal Ghost is an exception to the rule.

Tchicai and multi-woodwind ace Charles Kohlhase inaugurate thematic construction atop a blithe ostinato with yearning notes and Fewell’s shady and tuneful lines. They subsequently raise the pitch and open it up, gelled by Tchicai’s steely tenor sax phrasings. Consequently, each piece features the frontline’s spirited voicings, as they bridge harmony and discord with soulful balladry and portentously crafted motifs. “Dark Matter” idealizes these factors, prominently supported by Cecil McBee’s deep bass lines. Here, the band renders mood-evoking sentiment while Fewell underscores and circles around the core mantra. But “Llanto Del Indio,” offers a trance-like aura, set forth by the bassist’s nimbly plucked ostinato groove. As Tchicai and Kohlhase acquire vocal characteristics via their bluesy phrasings above drummer Billy Hart’s understated Latin pulse. Otherwise, their meticulous plot developments are spiced with vivid expressionism, but once again Fewell tempers the intensity level with windswept movements and transcendent overtones. To summarize, Tribal Ghost is an unhurried production, incited by the musicians’ concentrated focus and seamless distribution of colorific improvisational segments and well- defined narratives. — Glenn Astarita


Photo by Jakob Crawfurd


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2 thoughts on “John Tchicai | Charlie Kohlhase | Garrison Fewell | Cecil McBee | Billy Hart | Tribal Ghost | No Business Records

  1. 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.

  2. A pesar de su brillante trayectoria, cofundador del New York Art Quartet, presente en algunos de los hitos de la carrera de Albert Ayler o del mismísimo John Coltrane, el saxofonista congoleño-danés John Tchicai nunca recibió el reconocimiento que merecía. Esta grabación de 2007 en el Birdland de Nueva York, editada solo en vinilo cuando se cumple un año de su desaparición, es probablemente ese disco redondo que faltaba en su discografía más reciente.

    Para la ocasión se presentaba con dos viejos colegas de Boston, el guitarrista Garrison Fewell y el saxofonista Charlie Kohlhase, con los que ya había publicado a trío Good Morning Songs, y ampliando la formación a quinteto una rítmica de plena garantía, la formada por Cecil McBee y Billy Hart, dos veteranos curtidos en mil batallas. El resultado es de una exquisitez asombrosa, un free melódico y atemporal.

    La pareja Tchicai-Kohlhase se compenetra a la perfección, pero la verdadera revelación para mí es el guitarrista, con un sonido limpio y pleno de swing. Los cuatro temas seleccionados, tres de ellos firmados por él, poseen una atmósfera similar, muy relajada y bluesy, y el melancólico Llanto del Indio, un clásico de Tchicai, pone un colofón de una belleza descomunal. Un disco encantador, de los que es difícil parar de escuchar una y otra vez.

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