Sunday, April 27, 2008
There are people who seem to possess an inherent musicality, something in them that causes virtually everything they do to manifest as "musical". In jazz, Monk is often so cited ("He even walks musical"), an assessment with which I agree. For myself, another has always been Don Cherry. It's as though melody is coursing through his
veins. However far he ranged, however blistering or abstract his playing, there was always, at least up to a certain point, a sense of song there. One of my favorite musicians.
I believe I only saw him perform three times. The first was at the old Kitchen, on Wooster and Grand, I guess around '76, in a loose knit band with his wife Moki on tambura (I think) and two or three others I can't quite remember, possibly Frank Lowe among them. Maybe Badal Roy? In fact, if you're still reading here Mark Forman, I think this concert was where we first met, which would place it around October of '76.
Saw Cherry with Ornette in the summer of '77 at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, an amazing "double bill" with the Cherry/Redman/Haden/Blackwell quintet first, then Prime Time.
The last time was not so pleasant, a quartet date at a short-lived club on Houston St. called "Spiral", sometime in the mid 80s. Cherry was apparently in the midst of one of his bouts with heroin and was spaced out to the extreme, seemingly having little idea where he was, what was going on. Bob Stewart was with him on tuba (and was spectacular). There was a guitarist (I don't remember who) and a last-minute, young drummer who was clueless.
Playing through my Cherry vinyl, I begin with the two Mu sessions, two of the few original Actuel LPs I own (I have earlier Cherry, but on on disc). They still stand out for a kind of rawness, a real in-your-face recording quality that's very bracing. Great playing, of course (Blackwell, with Roach, still my favorite jazz drummer), wonderfully wide-ranging. I'm pretty sure these discs were my first exposure to the compositions of Dollar Brand.
"Eternal Rhythm" remains my favorite recording under Cherry's name and, imho, one of the finest jazz records of the 60s. Wild, absurdly far-reaching from gamelan to the blues, awesome work by Sharrock and Karl Berger, an olio that has no business working but does so beautifully. More thoughts in my AllMusic write up here.
Side One of "Relativity Suite" is just about as good, a gorgeous mini-suite that features some tremendous Cherry vocals (he's really one of my fave vocalists in jazz) and the sublime "Desireless", surely one of the loveliest melodies in the music. That wonderful rhythm in the 2nd section...The second side's more of a mixed bag but not bad at all, nice Bley piano and rousing Blackwell to finish up. Is this still not available on disc? iirc, Joe McPhee participated in rehearsals for this but couldn't make the recording date, a shame.
I have "Orient" as a double LP on Affinity (can't locate an image--currently available on disc with a cover showing an ant walking around a yellow fruit or lemon drop) though I think it's shown up in various guises. The first disc is a trio date from 1972 with Han Bennink and Moki Cherry. They begin with a version of "Desireless" then go out from there, a bit ragged but much fun. It's kind of a mess but Cherry was responsible for some glorious messes and that musicality and engaging spirit almost always carries the day. The other disc is from a concert with Okay Tamiz and the great Johnny Dyani. Should have been more Cherry/Dyani collaborations, two supremely musical fellows.
I think the album I have titled "Tibet" (on Picc-a-dilly) has also been issued elsewhere under different names--currently available combined with "Eternal Now"--recorded around '74, I think with Don Cherry (piano, percussion); Christer Bothen (piano); Bernt Rosengren (taragot); Agneta Ernstrom (tibetan bell, etc); Bengt Berger (piano, mridangam, etc). Good record, Cherry venturing out into areas even further removed from jazz, not playing trumpet at all, despite the cover photo. "Bass Figure for Ballatune" is a pretty amazing piece for pounded piano a la an especially vociferous Terry Riley.
Mighty big jump, chronologically as well as stylistically, to the next and final Cherry vinyl in the house, 1988's "Art Deco". Pretty widely heralded at the time for dopey reasons--Cherry coming back to the mainstream, showing those young lions a thing or two. It's smooth, accomplished and more than a bit bland. Nice quartet with James Clay on tenor, Haden and Higgins, Cherry's trumpet work is quite pure though lacking the passion of his best playing. Overall, I found the effort disappointing though I imagine, or hope, that the deal with A&M got him a bit of money. Some of his subsequent discs, particularly "Home Boy" & much of "Multikulti" were dreadful.
But overall a unique and wonderful musician. In peak form, probably no one I'd rather hear on trumpet. Thanks, Mr. Cherry.