John Tchicai's shadow

John Tchicai playing alto

John Tchicai
Somnambule - Writing About Music

John Tchicai w/ Back In Your Town

Red Rose Club, Finsbury Park. Thursday 19th May

Back In Your Town is a monthly improvisation session organised by Ashley Wales and John Coxon. Since its inception last year, a number of guests including the likes of Phil Durrant, David Toop and Gareth Sager have played with a fairly stable cast of regulars. Tonight sees their highest profile guest to date, John Tchicai. The Danish-born saxophonist is probably best known for recordings with Don Cherry, Albert Ayler and John Coltrane which were made during a three year residence in New York in the mid 1960’s. Tonight is Tchicai’s first visit to the UK in more than 20 years and as a result the Red Rose Club is packed to the gills. The landlord even threatens at one point to bar the door to latecomers.

Without introduction drummers Mark Sanders and Tony Marsh begin to play in tidal rhythm, all ebb and wash, and are quickly joined by Mark Edwards’ vigorous double bass. After a few minutes Tchicai, tall and dapper in dark shirt and smart baseball cap, steps to the front of the stage and begins to play a small, repeating figure like the echo of a bebop phrase. Evan Parker joins him and the ensemble quickly achieves a powerful momentum. There’s a strong sense of two distinct voices: Parker’s tone is edgier and sharper while Tchicai is generally warmer and more rounded. After a brief pause, Ashley Wales sets the next scene with a looped wash, over which Tchicai performs a wistful bass clarinet solo and the resulting music is akin to lying recumbent on a sun-warmed eiderdown. Tchicai remarks with the lilt of a Danish accent and a wry smile “Very nice to see you after all these years.”

Throughout the evening Coxon and Wales influence the direction of their fellow performers with looped samples and passages of rhythm guitar or percussion. Theirs is a tangential perspective which produces music with a more distinct form than might otherwise be achieved without them. This meeting between contemporary producer/musicians and old and new school improvisors has the potential for tension, but the only failure of the evening proves to be the final piece which fails to elicit little more than a rather platidunious solo from Tchicai. The situation is salvaged to some extent by a single encore in which the saxophonist reads a colleague’s poem over an improvised backdrop. Tchicai’s attendance is attributable to a recording session for the same cast held the day before. It will be fascinating to hear the result.

Colin Buttimer
Published by Jazzwise magazine