John Tchicai was born in Copenhagen, studied Jazz there and moved to America after an encounter with Archie Shepp and Bill Dixon. Stateside, he played with Shepp and Don Cherry in the New York Contemporary Five, and later fronted the New York Art Quartet driven by Milford Graves. He also recorded with the scene’s greats, appearing on Albert Ayler’s New York Eye and Ear Control, and on John Coltrane’s monumental Ascension. Thereafter he pursued an individualist’s course, nicely summed up by John Fordham in Tchicai’s 2012 Guardian obituary.
These duets with British free jazz luminary Evan Parker were recorded when Tchicai was 69, at the same May 2005 studio date that produced John Tchicai with Strings (trd005), a misleadingly-titled electric session with drummer Mark Sanders and John Coxon and Ashley Wales of Spring Heel Jack – an album Fordham rates as “one of (Tchicai’s) finest recordings”.
Parker and Tchicai enjoyed an occasional familiarity over a number of years, and they sound fully at ease in one another’s company. Their vices are well matched but equally distinctive, with Tchicai’s sound typically cooler and more lyrical, warmed by the woody tone of the bass clarinet he matches to Parker’s soprano sax on a brisk brace of opening duos.
Trading ideas in counterpoint, loquacious at times, more often conversational, conversant with each other’s techniques and options, Parker and Tchicai weave twinned lines, warp and weft, into the fabric of a duologue.
The pace drops on “Clapham Duo 3”, where Tchicai turns to alto sax for a closer match with Parker’s soprano in an unforced and tender duo, which ends with closely bound, soft-hued but unwavering sustained tones.
“Clapham Duo 4” has both players on tenor, seesaw playful at first, but gradually fixating on a kernel of melody, and the variations to be teased out of it. Then they reset, getting back into a garrulous conversation on “Duo 5”, where Tchicai soars into Ayler-esque ecstasies while Parker adheres to strictly European free jazz voicing. They never cease to compliment each other though, and they resolve their lines together, beautifully.
“Duo 6” reverts to the bass clarinet/soprano setup, and a more intimate, ruminative dynamic with a songlike evolution. Listening is like tapping into a private conversation. “Duo 7”, the shortest piece at 4:48 (none stretch to nine minutes), is jauntier, with Parker on soprano and Tchicai on alto, their lines combining, writhing and flocking along rapid, flickering trajectories.
The third and final dual tenor duo, number 8, is where the two reedsmen come closest to butting heads, albeit in the most urbane way.But it’s also where their identities merge most closely, synchronizing on a final abstraction, focused on the same vanishing point.
Parker and Tchicai make such potent and concentrated musicality sound effortlessness. Their Clapham Duets are supremely pleasurable, and make a wonderful coda to Tchicai with Strings. It’s good to have them, at last.
Evan Parker soprano and tenor saxophones; John Tchicai alto and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet.
Evan Parker & Seymour Wright – Tie the Stone to the Wheel.
Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M, Evan Parker, Tony Marsh, John Edwards, John Butcher – Quintet, Sextet, Duos.
Long Story Short – Wels 2011 Curated by Peter Brötzmann (inc. Tchicai with Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet).
Also on Treader, Tchicai’s 2008 duet with drummer Tony Marsh, the 25 minute “We Dare To Sing”, included on Treader Duos (trd013).
Buy Clapham Duos and Treader Duos direct from Treader.