Some years ago, I wrote this review on Don Cherry tribute albums, but now we have access again to one of the great performances of the visionary artist.
The music on the double LP has not been previously released, and we can thank the label for releasing this great addition to Cherry's discography, although I think that some bootleg versions of this performance already circulated, although with less good quality, even if the sound quality here is not superb either.
The performances were recorded in Sweden, in the the Arbetarnas Bildningsförbund (abbreviated ABF and translated as Workers' Educational Association), which explains the titles "ABF Suite : Part 1" and "ABF Suite : Part 2". The band on these tracks consists of Cherry himself on pocket trumpet, flutes, piano, percussion and vocals, Maffy Falay on trumpet, flutes and percussion, Bernt Rosengren on tenor saxophone, flutes and percussion, Tommy Koverhult on tenor saxophone, flutes and percussion, Torbjörn Hultcrantz on bass, Leif Wennerström on drums. The performance dates from September 1968.
The third track was performed three years later in the Bucky Dome, at the Museum of Modern Art, and is called "Another Dome Session", split in two parts. Apart from Don Cherry and Maffy Falay, the band consists of Tommy Koverhult on sax, Rolf Olsson on bass, Okay Temiz on drums, accompanied by "children and visiting friends".
It is maybe this last element which made Don Cherry who he was. A true citizen of the world, he wanted to celebrate life and music in all its variety and spontaneous joy. Technical skill in this vision did not appear to be a prerequisite for good music, as long at this spontaneous celebration was part of it. Cherry's approach to music was obviously strongly influenced by Ornette Coleman, with whom he performed for many years in the famous quartet, but he took a different direction as a leader. Yes, like Coleman, he kept to the melody, or a sequence of melodies as the backbone for improvisations, instead of harmonic progressions and the more traditional theme-improv-theme structure. The few chore phrases were known and rehearsed by the musicians, but could be played at any time and in any sequence during the improvisations, bringing the band back together after sometimes wonderful excursions into world jazz territory, or equally often into meandering bifurcations of little interest or dynamics.
I leave it up to the listener to judge which is which, yet the end result is always fun, and it is really hard for me as a fan to be negative about this. It is such a joy to hear his music, and the all-inclusive approach, that even the lesser moments are taken without regret and even with feelings of generosity.
The album also gives a great perspective on how his music evolved over the years. The ABF suite is still close to the idea of his album "Complete Communion", released in 1966, with some of the themes of that album figuring as part of the suites. On the Dome performance, the playing is already beyond jazz, with lots of singing, flute playing, middele-eastern percussion, and strange evolutions of loose lack of activity, which can make us wonder what actually happened on stage at that moment, but then out of this quiet indecisiveness arises the most beautiful trumpet theme, one that will be repeated years later with Codona, ending again in a great warm blanket of common improvisation and singing.
Don Cherry was unique, for sure, a wonderful artist, someone whose music always projects great feelings, authentic feelings for humanity and life, a music that is both sacred and tribal, while at the same time trying to be accessible for all to listen to, and equally for all to join in, and play, and even dance on stage, or just at home, while listening.
This is not his best album, but fans of the artist should not miss this one, and it will in any case lift everyone's spirits. Guaranteed!