Afro-Danish alto saxophonist John Tchicai (1936), son of of a Danish mother and a Congolese father, was the important link between New York's original free-jazz
scene and the European scene that developed in the 1970s.
Tchicai followed Albert Ayler to New York in 1962 and was ubiquitous in the early pioneering experiments of free group improvisation, notably
the New York Contemporary Five, a quintet with Don Cherry on cornet and Archie Shepp on tenor saxophone that implemented the principles of Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz (1960) on their Consequences (october 1963), particularly Consequences (the only track with Cherry);
and the New York Art Quartet with Roswell Rudd on trombone, Milford Graves on drums and Lewis Worrell on bass, that experimented with expanded timbral ranges and polyphonic solos on New York Art Quartet (november 1964) and Mohawk (july 1965).
He played on several milestones of free jazz:
Albert Ayler's New York Eye And Ear Control (1964),
Archie Shepp's Four For Trane (1964),
John Coltrane's Ascension (1965)
and Roswell Rudd's Roswell Rudd (1965).
Tchicai returned to Denmark in 1966 and formed Cadentia Nova Danica (october 1968), initially a nine-piece free-jazz ensemble that became a
24-piece "creative" orchestra for Afrodisiaca (july 1969).
Tchicai, converted to Indian spirituality, was largely silent until 1977.
He then formed the Strange Brothers, a quartet with a tenor saxophonist that
released Strange Brothers (october 1977),
that documents a live performance, and
Darktown Highlights (march 1977) and split in 1981.
In the meantime, Tchicai had also released Solo (february 1977) for soprano, alto and flute, which also featured a duet with trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff,
and especially Real (march 1977), twelve vignettes ranging in length from two minutes to eight minutes (Nothing Doing in Krakow) for a trio with guitarist Pierre Dorge and bassist Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen.
These works asserted a fluid, intimate, controlled and highly rational style
that sounded closer to the atmosphere of classical music than free jazz.
world-music (and not only African) came natural to him and imbued many of
his compositions with rhythmic and lyrical nuances that were unusual for
Switching to tenor sax, Tchicai joined Pierre Dorge's New Jungle Orchestra.
He also formed an Orkester to record Merlin Vibrations (march 1983).
Cassava Balls (may 1985) was a collaboration among Hartmut Geerken (prepared piano, all sorts of percussion, shortwave radios, Tibetan horn, cello) and and Don Moye (all sorts of percussion) and Tchicai on tenor, flute and some percussion, reprised for The African Tapes (april 1985).
Other than these collaborations, the main recordings of the 1980s were several
Timo's Message (may 1983) for a quartet with two contrabassists,
Put Up The Fight (october 1987), that reunited him with the rhythm section of the Strange Brothers plus vibraphonist and synth-man Bent Clausen to play world-music,
Grandpa's Spells (march 1992) for a quartet with pianist Misha Mengelberg.
In 1991 Tchicai moved to California and formed an Afro-fusion septet,
the Archetypes (two guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion), that recorded
Love Is Touching (june 1994).
More serious was Moonstone Journey (may 1999), with the ensemble
Ok Nok Kongo and Tchicai on soprano and tenor that crafted some kind of
avantgarde funk-jazz (A Chaos With Some Kind of Order and Spirals of Ruby).
But Tchicai repeatedly wasted his talent on mediocre, radio-friendly recordings
Life Overflowing (1998),
Infinitesimal Flash (january 2000),
Hope is Bright Green Up North (october 2002),
Big Chief Dreaming (april 2005), most of them truly embarrassing, rarely
featuring Tchicai compositions.
Anybody Home (2001) collected two of Tchicai's neoclassical works: Hulemusik (june 2000), a chamber concert in a cave (that can be reached only by boat), and Forwards and Backwards (september 1990).
The real highlight of the new decade was the joyful cantata Hymne Ti Sofia (may 2001), an improvisation for pipe organ, saxophone and percussion that mixed elements of Christian liturgical music and free jazz.
Spring Heel Jack collaborated with Tchicai on his With Strings (may 2005).
The All Ear Trio (july 2006) was Tchicai with drummer Peter Ole Jorgensen and reed player Thomas Agergaard (Sirone played bass on five tracks).
One Long Minute (february 2008) features
Alex Weiss (tenor sax, alto sax, percussion), Garrison Fewell (guitar,
percussion, bow), Dmitry Ishenko (bass) and Ches Smith (drums).
Look To The Neutrino (august 2008) features
Greg Burk (piano, flute),
Marc Abrams (double bass, voice) and Enzo Carpentieri (drums).
John Tchicai and The Engines were
Dave Rempis (alto
and tenor saxes), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Nate McBride (bass) and Tim
Daisy (drums) for
Other Violets (may 2011), that contains the
20-minute Cool Copy/Looking.
Tribal Ghost (february 2007) documents live performances by John Tchicai (tenor sax and bass clarinet), Dead Cat Bounce's Charlie Kohlhase (alto, tenor and baritone saxes), Garrison Fewell (guitar and percussion), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums).
Hindukush Serenade (may 1977), a live collaboration with
Hartmut Geerken, contains the
24-minute Invocations For Angels And Demons.
Clapham Duos (may 2005) documents an improvisation between
John Tchicai and Evan Parker.
John Tchicai died in 2012 at the age of 76.
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