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Music Review: Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club – Adventures

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Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club is all about the tête-à-tête between members of his probing musical collective. Kohlhase’s sax is joined by Jeff Galindo’s trombone, Matt Langley’s tenor and soprano sax, Jef Charland’s bass, Eric Hofbauer’s guitar, and a pair of drummers in Miki Matsuki and Chris Punis.

With the aptly-titled Adventures, this Explorer’s Club introduces listeners to the stunning interchange and unrestrained power working within the septet. Riotously shattering convention with loosely-strung structures and an accent on cross-cutting dialogues as opposed to solos, the record pulses with wild energy. It is invigorating and entirely different.

The Explorer’s Club has been playing together for over two years, with the opening gig at the Westcott Community Centre in Syracuse, New York. Initially the Club was a quintet, but Kohlhase tossed Galindo in for good measure. Then, after using Punis as a replacement drummer for an unavailable Matsuki, it was decided that the group would use both drummers to expand the rhythm section.

Adventures picks up every player contributing to the overall swell of insanity.

Seven of the ten compositions are Kohlhase originals. Jef Charland’s “Kohlhase and Forever” is also featured. Frequent Kohlhase collaborator John Tchicai’s three drum-based pieces flesh out the complete ten.

Of course, to categorize the musical scaffold of Adventures as compositions would perhaps be untrue. Instead, pieces feel like expressions of mood. Playing is pure, ringing out as pieces of dialogue and disagreement. It is wonderful to hear well thought-out notes sound so gaily shambolic.

Take the snaky, irritated, blurting “Thryllkyll On the Schyllkyll/Psychopath On the Cyclepath.” Its baffling title a clue, this is a number that relies on bedlam and lack of structure. The first portion, a “simple” sax and rhythm comingle, seems “normal” enough until the Explorer’s Club drives the wagon off the road in a heap of tousled instrumentation.

A superhero theme permeates the record, with “Jasper Jaguar/Deceptor” leading the charge to victory. Here, Kohlhase utilizes his skill to tunefully describe the transformation from docile Jasper Jaguar into Deceptor. Nothing is as it seems.

“The Alarm is My Only Kryptonite” highlights the freshness of the septet further, beginning with a roundabout duet between Hofbauer’s guitar and Kohlhase’s water-bottle-muted baritone sax.

Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club excels at risky, bold, agile jazz. This is music without a net, a ballsy set of “songs” arranged with devil-may-care excitement and keenness for true sensory experiences. Adventures isn’t going to be for everyone, of course, but in many ways that’s the point of truly challenging and courageous music.

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