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October 2006

John Tchicai/Charlie Kohlhase/Garrison Fewell
Good Night Songs
Boxholder Records

This ad hoc trio of Tchicai (tenor sax, bass clarinet, voice, percussion), Kohlhase (tenor, alto and baritone saxes) and Fewell (guitar, chopsticks, slide and percussion) plays a complex brand of outish chamber jazz—mostly quiet but with a visceral kick. The consistently interesting tunes, written primarily by individual trio members, run the gamut from swinging freebop to pointillistic abstraction and folk-based melodicism. I sense an occasional deference by Kohlhase and Fewell toward Tchicai, which actually works out quite well. It helps center the improvised sections.

The clean-fingered Fewell is extraordinarily responsive to what the saxophonists lay down, especially when playing in duets with one or the other. Kohlhase’s style is harder and blunter than Tchicai’s, making for a nice contrast: There’s never a doubt about who’s who. Tchicai gets an especially pliable, multihued sound on both tenor and bass clarinet. The two saxophonists blend exceptionally well, phrasing as one and working in fruitful opposition during the free-blows.

The live two-disc set starts out a trifle dry, but by the concluding tune, Kohlhase’s swinging, riffing “Consolation Cake,” the group’s warmed-up plenty, covering a lot of ground with conviction and intelligence. Creative and venturesome within subtly defined bounds, this is a fine effort.

Originally published in October 2006
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