JOHN TCHICAI

Infinitesimal Flash
(Buzz ZZ 76010)

While some of the highly-praised young lions of the early 1990s seem to be tiring of the demanding jazz life — taking extended sabbaticals, accepting teaching sinecures and growing dreadlocks for that all-important street cred — the malaise hasn't affected most of the original New Thingers from the 1960s. Those still alive, in fact, almost invariably resemble Ol' Man River — itself recast by Albert Ayler in 1964 — just rolling, rolling along.

Take for instance California-based John Tchicai, who helms this memorable session. At the age of 64, the reedist who took part in many of the first important avant-garde sessions — including ASCENSION — shows no signs of slowing down. In fact INFINITESIMAL FLASH is easily on the same level as the ground-breaking work he did in the 1960s and 1970s.

Sure there are some changes. He now plays tenor and flute instead of alto saxophone, for instance and the sidemen get more say in the material. Most notably there's a pronounced Oriental cast to many tunes. That's no surprise, since his frontline partner, Wong, has for many years been one of the most successful melders of jazz and Asian musics. With his Danish-Congolese background, and interest in different sounds, Tchicai is quite comfortable with a worldview like this. Still this CD is planets away from any of those self-conscious world-jazz efforts. It's pure jazz (whatever "that" means).

Considering Tchicai's past sparring partners have included Don Cherry, Roswell Rudd, Albert and Archie Shepp, Wong should be commanded for his ability to not only hold his own here, but give as good as he gets. This is especially apparent on tunes like "Melvin Truss" and "The Boat Is Ready", the later a sprightly march. Both horn men use similar tones (Tchicai's as a former altoist is probably lighter) yet the result is more akin to bricklayers cementing an edifice than any so-called sax battle.

Successfully staying out of the way unless they're needed, Lane and Marucci also do their part. The edge goes to the strong, in-your-face bassist, who demonstrates his skills on "T's Groove" and the title track. Occasionally, though, the percussionist exhibits a tendency to try to fill every millisecond with some sort of sound.

Finally, the three tracks with "voices" tracks are more distracting than irritating. Since a Chinese speaker intones on "Space Without Time" and the words to Og Her Ligger Vi Saa!" are (likely) in Danish you must accept them as just other found sounds. Then there's the title track — which seems to be recorded in front of a live audience, though there's no indication of this in the liners — that includes one of those truth-is-beauty recitations (by someone who incidentally, doesn't sound like Tchicai). Luckily it soon gives way to some fine, low-pitched tenor saxophone and arco bass work.

This enduring preference for words and music may be the one entity that links Tchicai to his past. But judging by his playing it's certainly no sign of backward thinking. Here's hoping the young lions will sound anywhere as good 30 years hence.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Kippiology 2. Autumn Moon 3. Alishan 4. Melvin Truss 5. Persistence 6. The Boat Is Ready 7. Decide For Yourself 8. Space Without Time 9. Og Her Ligger Vi Saa! 10. T's Groove 11. Infinitesimal Flash

Personnel: John Tchicai (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone flute, voice); Francis Wong (tenor saxophone, flute); Adam Lane (bass); Mat Marucci (drums)