Review: John Tchicai

John Tchicai with John Edwards and Tony Marsh
(Café Oto, September 27th, 2010 – day 1 of 2 day residency. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

John Tchicai ‘s gentle, expressive features belie the thoughtful deliberation and compositional intelligence which ran through his sets at Café Oto.

From his first solo notes a depth and sonority flowed from Tchicai’s patinated tenor and enveloped the room. The warmth and clarity of the opening statement was delivered with intent and confidence, and described a precise linear pattern – in the spirit of the artist Paul Klee’s ‘taking a line for a walk’. Bassist John Edwards followed in measured, resonant mode, and drummer Tony Marsh laid down an abstract percussive backdrop before adding a hint of Latin beat, which then gave Tchicai leave to up the pace and pepper the air with flurries of energetic bursts before a short spell of free-scat singing.

Tchicai carefully moderates and builds, creating keen anticipation as to where he’s taking the music next, and invites the listener to track and follow. He was so clearly in control of what he’s doing – and like the very best, spoke through his instrument with a fresh and unique voice, and an almost ingenuous simplicity.

In his repetitive phrasing, delivered with subtle variety, there were links to African, middle eastern and far eastern roots, yet his mature playing is ultimately embedded in the jazz which he has lived and breathed since the 60s in Denmark and the US.

The clarity of Tchicai’s improvisational structures was infectious and inspired the very best from Edwards and Marsh. Marsh, seated before a frame with cymbals hanging off ropes exhibited a natural, flowing dexterity which leant towards a soft meditative, eastern sensibility – mixing mallets and sticks, then switching, in duet first with with Tchicai and later with Edwards, to complex interplay. Edwards dug deep with rasping bowings of the lower registers, and then the quietest of counters to Tchicai’s spatial statements.

The second set saw Tchicai bespectacled at first to read the scores for two strong, and slower paced pieces by Finnish saxophonist, Mikko Innanen, with whom he has previously collaborated, which led to intense and drawn-out creative extemporisations in different combinations and finally to Tchicai’s mellow-voiced poetic observation, ‘Don’t go worrying and hurrying, do some loving and enjoying … sometime.’

With modesty, fluency and knowledge, Tchicai lived up to his adage: ‘If you want it, you can create your own style, both inside and outside of music.’ A lovely player, and a lesson for us all.

John Tchicai’s biography

Categories: miscellaneous

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