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Hear This - By - August 30, 2000 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Hear This

Veteran saxophonist John Tchicai is an excellent example of the old tenet that most improvisers only sound as good as the company they keep. In the early '60s, the Copenhagen-born Tchicai moved to NYC, where he established himself as a powerful new voice among “New Thing” revolutionaries Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, and Roswell Rudd. With these world-class collaborators he co-founded cutting-edge combos, which led to appearances on breakthrough albums by Shepp, Albert Ayler, and John Coltrane.Tchicai's promise as a top-tier player of this historic era, which ultimately changed the shape of jazz forever, was all but guaranteed. But his bands didn't last, and his high-profile associations ended abruptly when he returned to Denmark in the latter half of the decade. There he dropped off the stateside radar of subversives to watch, and while somewhat active in the ensuing years, Tchicai only reared his horn on rare occasions.

Still a “name” jazz cat, he accepted a teaching post at UC Davis in the early '90s. In the past few years he's been heard around the Bay Area, often in student-level or pickup improv groups of little substance. Then along came Infinitesimal Flash, a thunder crash in a clear blue sky. With an inspired, multigenerational group of creative-jazz explorers — Francis Wong (sax, flute), Adam Lane (bass), Mat Marucci (drums) — Tchicai's performance on this disc is stunning. His sound seems drawn from the same spirit well as Ayler's: diaphanous, keening, beautiful-sad, resilient. There are also blazing moments of Ornette Coleman's spiraling momentum. In the company of players who ignite each other's power, John Tchicai is once again a force that commands attention.