THE GRAIL; OR, There’s Something Rocking in Denmark


John Tchicai and Cadentia Nova Danica
MPS : 1969

JT, alto sax; Hugh Steinmetz, Theo Rahbek, trumpet; Mauritz Tchicai, trombone, sousaphone, waterpipe; Willy Jagert, ophicleide; Jørgen Thorup, clarinet; Christian Kyhl, alto and soprano saxophone; Sune Weimar, alto saxophone; Michael Schou, alto saxophone, flute; Ole Kühl, tenor and soprano saxophone; Mogens Bollerup, tenor saxophone; Willem Breuker, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Pierre Dørge, guitar; Ole Matthissen, Ole Thilo, organ; Jon Finsen, drums, glockenspiel; Claus Bøje, drums; Anthony Barnett, percussion, tabla.

The lanky John Tchicai cut a formidable swath through the New York free scene in the mid-Sixties, laying down indelible work with seminal groups such as the New York Art Quartet and New York Contemporary Five. Some time after shaking the roof off Van Gelder’s place during the Ascension sessions, Tchicai blew back to his native Denmark with a head of steam and some seriously outsized notions of what a large group of musicians could accomplish. The Danes, not knowing what else to do, gave him a grant.

Cadentia Nova Danica made a couple of albums. This is their second, and it’s a mønster. Fulfilling the old and entirely accurate adage that geography is destiny, Afrodisiaca blends Euro big band archness, New York fire, and, picking up on Tchicai’s Congolese roots, African rhythmic complexity and polyphonics into a soulful stew.

That mix may seem somewhat inevitable in theory, but the band’s music still sounds singular. It was seriously forward-looking — a bold and idiosyncratic assemblage of fiery improv and nuanced composition that found new ways to disassemble and reconfigure the large ensemble. Baffling at the time, today these tunes are a little less strange thanks to later, evolutionary fare such as Braxton’s large group work from the Seventies. But CND mapped terrain that’s still gone largely unexplored in jazz.

The wonderful “Fordringsmontage” highlights Tchicai’s approach to free improv. In it we hear aspects of the AACM large group aesthetic, using some abstract framework to support some really supple playing. This was guitarist Dørge’s debut, and his fills offer some of the most refreshing playing here, foretelling Bourelly’s work on Muhal Abrams’ big band outings. The rare good song that seems longer that it really is, “Fordringsmontage” works so much into the first four minutes, especially, it’s something of a surprise when you check the clock at the end.

Terrific examples of how Cadentia Nova Danica broke their compositions into unsuaully interlocking modules, “Lakshimi” and “Heavenly Love On A Planet” are tunes that alternately flow and contrast, build and jolt. It’s fascinating how the guitar, trumpet, and flute sections in “Lakshimi” are orchestrated against the large ensemble and how they’re all bound together into the same tune. It’s a mini-epic in six minutes.

“Heavenly Love” features two winding and growling solos set against an armada of percussion that starts out sparse and agile and then becomes increasingly dense. Again, the arrangement of the compositional connective tissue is extraordinary.

We could say it about almost everything we post here, but it’s triply true in this case: Some hip label really needs to REISSUE this! Cadentia Nova Danica’s moment has come.

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New Yorkers or those in the vicinity in early February can catch John Tchicai’s current quintet at Birdland (scroll down), 7-10 February.

Category Cadentia Nova Danica, John Tchicai

9 Responses to THE GRAIL; OR, There’s Something Rocking in Denmark

  1. thanks again! and thanks also for that link to the article on the other album; i was never really sure that it existed.

  2. haha… you guys are going to be more popular than ever for this! several visitors to church number nine have asked atanase for cnd stuff – but he doesn’t have any. once again, you guys are beautiful :)

  3. Ah! thanks for this. i looked for it for ages.

  4. thanks for stopping by pgw, centrifuge and atanase! appreciate the kind words.

    it’s been our pleasure to share and write about this music. it’s truly special work.

  5. First album was better (no syrupy bits!)

  6. John Tchicai’s “Afrodisiaca” will be reissued on CD by the German label Promising Music ( ) in June/July of 2008 as part of the second batch as announced by email to their customers.
    Visit their website. Bodo Jacoby already reissued six MPS albums in the first batch. The reissues are great with regard to packaging, booklet, and sound quality.

  7. Actually, just ordered it from Amazon and posted a review. Its awesome. Glad this site promotes a lot of material that otherwise gets overlooked because many of the lp’s featured here got reissued as cd’s afterwards. Keep up the good work.

  8. » Danish Passion destination: OUT