Play Free or Die

COMPOSERS: Charlie Kohlhase
LABELS: Boxholder
PERFORMER: Charlie Kohlhase Quintet


One of the most provocative things a small group can do is operate without a piano – still, 50 years after the Gerry Mulligan Quartet caused a sensation, something of a departure. Charlie Kohlhase chooses to work with trumpet, two saxes, bass and drums for his splendid play free or die.

Kohlhase is a saxophonist who’s worked in and around the Boston scene for many years, often with the Either/Orchestra, and while he’s never made many waves as a leader his records are usually worth a spin.

This double-disc set, consisting of live recordings from three different concerts in 2001, isn’t quite as in-your-face as the title suggests. The group favours a free bop feel which softens fears that it’s going to be one bad-weather squall after another.


Most of the pieces are quite clearly structured, even if they do allow the players to go off at any feasible and constructive tangent they wish. ‘Pigpile’, for instance, has one saxophone and the bass playing a 22-beat figure, while the other saxophone and the trumpet layer a different melody at a different tempo. A lot of music and very little of it counts as any kind of dead spot.