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Grandpa's Spells

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Album Review

Denmark saxophonist John Tchicai burst into American consciousness with his strong role in John Coltrane's seminal Ascension album in the '60s. Since then, Tchicai has performed regularly and recorded as a leader and sideman on a plethora of recordings in several different styles. Grandpa's Spells celebrates and results from his winning the celebrated JAZZPAR prize in 1992, and features him with an all-star group of sidemen displaying a range of perspectives. The presence of Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg adds a colorful dimension, his loony improvisations and deftly placed chords substantially contributing to the success of the project. There is a lot of ground covered, from Mengelberg's Monk-like "Elevator 2" to classical music composer Carl Nielsen's gentle "Solen Er Saa Rød" to rambunctious, wildly swinging versions of Jelly Roll Morton's "Grandpa's Spells" and "Cannonball Blues." While Tchicai is comfortable with freestyle modern concepts, as he shows on the adventurous, collectively improvised "Improvisation B" and "Improvisation C," he seems uncomfortable totally foregoing melody, rarely turning his back on tunefulness or tastefulness, and he rarely, if ever, pursues sustained primitive screeches void of tonal center. Neither does he engage in extended techniques. As a result, this album offers a remarkably accessible and diverse selection, reflecting a fine slice of the artistic talents of this major Danish jazz performer.


Born: 28 April 1936 in Copenhagen, Denmark

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Saxophonist John Tchicai was best known for his time in New York during the height of the '60s free jazz explosion, but he actually spent the majority of his career advancing the cause of avant-garde jazz in Northern Europe. Tchicai was born April 28, 1936, in Copenhagen to a Danish mother and Congolese father; he began playing violin at age ten, switched to both clarinet and alto sax at 16, and focused on the latter at Denmark's Conservatory of Music. In the late '50s, Tchicai began making the rounds...
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Grandpa's Spells, John Tchicai
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