Great Danish reedist John Tchicai
appears on important recordings by Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, and Archie Shepp, and he's long been just as comfortable playing standards as he is freely improvising, never settling into any particular sound—but because this makes him hard to pigeonhole, he's often overlooked in discussions of the legends of free jazz. To curious listeners, though, his flexibility makes his work more valuable: the brilliant multilinear improv he played with trombonist Roswell Rudd on the front line of the New York Art Quartet with (last year
Cuneiform provided a reminder of the group's potency by releasing a batch of live 1965 recordings as Old Stuff
), the hypnotically beautiful music he made with South African bassist Johnny Dyani, the simple treatments he gave the music of Thelonious Monk on the straight-ahead 2009 quartet record In Monk's Mood
(Steeplechase). For this rare Chicago performance, part of the ongoing tenth-anniversary celebration of the Hungry Brain's Transmission series, Tchicai will place himself another intriguing context as a guest with local quartet the Engines
—trombonist Jeb Bishop, reedist Dave Rempis, bassist Nate McBride, and drummer Tim Daisy. According to Bishop, they've adopted a new MO since the release of their second album last year: instead of using written charts and fixed arrangements, they've memorized a collection of simple melodic ideas and relatively worked-out pieces without using sheet music, and onstage they improvise the structure of their sets. Anyone can call a tune at any time, even the middle of another one, and the band can move into and out of free playing at will. This kind of loose, spontaneous approach requires a lot of trust and familiarity to work, so the
Engines have provided Tchicai with sheet music to bring him up to speed; he may also bring some of his own music for them to play. Whether he does or not, sparks will fly.