Look no further than this record for evidence of a global jazz community. On "Big Chief Dreaming", we find an American guitarist who divides his time between Europe and Boston, Massachusetts; a Danish-born saxophonist who has made his home in New York City, California, and southern France; and three Italian musicians who are lynchpins in vital local and national jazz communities. This geographic diversity doesn't hinder their ability to come together as equals, and forge a distinct group identity. In fact, because the musicians are rooted in strong indigenous music scenes, their music can be cosmopolitan in its reach, and universal in its emotional appeal.
The quintet's personality is refracted through compositional lenses of Tchicai, Tracanna, and Fewell. Tchicai's tunes draw freely on folkloric sources as well as his own highly developed and utterly contemporary sense of melody. "Prayer for Right Guidance" according to Tchicai, "has some connection to the Native American spirit, which can be heard most clearly in the drums." The melody, however, is pure Tchicai. The hypnotic pulse laid down by bass and drums, with Fewell's chord voicings adding color, inspires contrasting solos from the horns. Tracanna's sinewy lines coil with inner tensions, sometimes they flow smoothly, and sometimes they bristle with irregular phrasing and sharp contours. Tchicai, on the other hand, submits long tones to subtle inflections and builds sturdy thematic passages from small step-wise phrases; listening to him build a solo is to hear the feeling of thought. It's a hallmark of the session that voices as strong and idiosyncratic as these are easily accommodated in the music.
Garrison's "The Queen of Ra" is a gem of subtle sophistication, with its contrasting moods, harmonic ambiguities, and references to world musics. Fewell had Don Cherry's Complete Communion and the Egyptian marches of Sun Ra in the back of his mind as he composed this piece for the session. The opening, slightly muted guitar harmonics evokes the sound of African thumb piano, while the two horn players begin a dialog they keep up throughout the tune. When the piece moves into a tasty groove, Fewell's shifting harmonic accompaniment implies different modal structures behind the solists, who swap cries of ecstasy and funky lines in one of the album's most exciting passages.
The completely improvised duos and trios feature some of the most searching music on the album. Sometimes pure improvisation inspires the deepest communication-with nothing else to lean on, artists must rely on their purest self and honesty of expression. "Instant Intuition" clearly reveals the mutual trust and esteem between Fewell and Tracanna. They can suggest or pick up on ideas offered by the other, or pursue contrasting or independent lines of thought without losing track of one another. The variety and exuberance of Tracanna's playing on "Grappa to Go" indicates how liberated he feels by Fewell.
A similar sense of disciplined liberation permeates the title track. Tchicai, Fewell, and Manzi are closely attuned to each other, and the music is focused and without extraneous notes. No one else balances deliberation and freedom, seriousness of purpose with lightness of heart, quite as gracefully as Tchicai. Fewell is in every sense his equal on this track, yeilding some of the closest and most exciting interplay on the album. He juggles intervals in parallel with Tchicai, spins melodic threads that play out with a sense of inevitiability, and adds color and contrast as the piece shifts rapidly among different tempos and moods. There's an exciting sense of the music being born as it is played.
This is truly a session in which each person influenced the music equally, a session where the tensions between individual expression and group dynamics yielded music of exceptional warmth, humor, and imagination.
- from the cd liner notes by Boston Phoenix jazz critic Ed Hazel