Click here to [close]

Monday, September 11, 2023

Don Cherry - Archives, Tributes and Re-issues

By Stef Gijssels

As mentioned before, Don Cherry played a huge role in my appreciation of music, from the early days when I switched from rock to fusion to jazz. Cherry appeared to be a great bridge for me to move across genres and to appreciate what is best in many genres, including his openness to world music. He played with so many people, and welcomed any stylistic background for the communal celebration of music. That's why I also like to keep track of any additions to his catalogue, both in terms of own work or as tributes by others. 

Don Cherry – Inside / Outside (Delta Music, 2023)

This is a remastered recording from a bootleg that was already circulating of a live concert in Amsterdam on August 14, 1987. I am not sure how legit the production is, but you can find it in full on Youtube. It was also released in Japan last year by the Necromancer label, and listed on streaming services. The musicians are Don Cherry on trumpet, Carlos Ward on alto saxophone, David Murray on tenor saxophone, and bass clarinet, Mark Helias on bass, and Ed Blackwell on drums. The concert consisted of four long tracks: "Mother Of The Veil", "Pitch-Field Blues", "Last of the Hitmen", and "Pettiford Bridge", which except for the last don't mean anything to me in terms of earlier knowledge. The playing is good, and so is the sound quality, and the audience is very appreciative and present. 

All five musicians contribute evenly and with equal enthusiasm. 

Don Cherry & Jean Schwarz – Roundtrip (1977) (Live at Théâtre Récamier, Paris) (Transversales Disques, 2023) 

To me this is mind-boggling: you have performed a live concert with Don Cherry in 1977, in the presence of other top jazz musicians of that time: Michel Portal on reeds and bandoneon, Jean-François Jenny Clark on bass, and Nanà Vasconcelos on percussion. Imagine that you did this, and recorded it, and then you completely forgot about it until some forty-five years later, when you remember that you may have some tapes of this somewhere lying around in your archives.

This is what happened to Jean Schwarz, French composer, ethnomusicologist, synth player and member of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM).

That being said, the music is a little bit of an outlier in Cherry's output, although many albums were new try-outs for him, as he liked to explore many musical forms. The music on this album is driven by percussion, including dous n'gouni, berimbau, very repetitively, very warm and trance-inducing, with the occasional solo instrument adding to the hypnotic and spiritual celebration. Like with the collaboration with Jon Appleton, the synth is at times more an irritating factor than contributing to the sound, but its impact is relatively limited and benign. 

There are some nice moments on the album, but I would say that especially 'completists' will be interested in this album, whereas readers less familiar with Cherry's work could find more pleasure in his more official work. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble - Spirit Gatherer • Tribute to Don Cherry (Self-Released, 2023)

Over the years, the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble has been one of the bands led by drummer Kahil El'Zabar, with varying musicians, but true to its overall sound: rhythmic, deliberately simple, yet with great appeal, audience interaction and musicianship. The ensemble now consists of Kahil El’Zabar on multi-percussion, balafon, kalimba and voice, Corey Wilkes on trumpet, spirit bowls and percussion, Alex Harding on baritone sax, Dwight Trible on voice, and the late David Ornette Cherry on piano, melodica, douss’n gouni. The latter is Don Cherry's son, who passed away in November last year, when he had a severe astma attack after a concert with the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. Strangely enough this is not mentioned in the liner notes despite the CD being released six months later. 

Interestingly enough, there is only one Don Cherry composition on the album, "Degi Degi". Most tracks are composed by Kahil El'Zabar, with additionally renditions of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman", John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme", Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't" and Pharoah Sanders' "Harvest Time". 

The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble's sound is infectious as ever. Standing still when you hear them is impossible. Dwight Trible's singing is something of an acquired taste, and definitely on their version of "Lonely Woman" it does not work for me, but that's a personal thing that I have with singing in jazz. It's different when El'Zabar sings and shouts during his improvisations, maybe because it comes more naturally, with deeper authenticity. 

But let's be positive: the whole band is in great shape, and I saw El'Zabar perform with Corey Wilkes and Alex Harding (and Justin Dillard on keyboards) earlier this year: they are something else, whether in the slow and meditative pieces as in the long rhythmic tracks. 

A great tribute to Don Cherry, whose artistic visionary approach seeps through even if the music of the band is fully made with El'Zabar's signature sound. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Jamie Breiwick - Awake Volume 2 - The Music of Don Cherry (Shifting Paradigm, 2023)

Four years ago, trumpeter Jamie Breiwick released his "Awake - The Music Of Don Cherry". I decided not to write anything about it for the simple reason that some of Cherry's best known compositions ("Art Deco", "Awake Nu", "Brown Rice", "The Thing") were brought in such a contemporary mainstream voice devoid of all levels of soul and adventure, that I left it for what it was. 
This album is a little bit better, possibly because the quintet with Jamie Breiwick on trumpet and percussion, Lenard Simpson on alto and percussion, Chris Weller on tenor and percussion, Tim Ipsen on bass and koto, Devin Drobka on drums, takes a little bit more distance from the source material and give it their own voice. They also focus now on later compositions by Cherry, penned in a less compact way. 

They bring six compositions: "Benoego" (from "Home Boy - Sister Out" (1985)), "Birdboy" (from "Multikulti" (1990)), "Ganesh" and "Interlude With Puppets" (from "Organic Music Theatre (Festival De Jazz De Chateauvallon 1972) (2021)), "March Of The Hobbits" (from "Relativity Suite" (1973)), "Monsieur Allard" by Ornette Coleman, and which was actually never released with Don Cherry (but maybe performed?)

Their approach works on this album, which I really liked, even if it is not ground-breaking, and very much on the safe side. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Don Cherry – Where Is Brooklyn? & Eternal Rhythm Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2022) & Complete Communion & Symphony For Improvisers (ezz-thetics, 2021)

Just for information that the Swiss label Hat-Hut re-issues a lot of free jazz iconic albums under the "ezz-thetics" label that they relaunched in tribute to George Russell. In the last years they re-issued two of Don Cherry's earlier and equally iconic work. 


matt w said...

About the tracks on the first release, "Mothers of the Veil" is an Ornette composition from In All Languages, and "Last of the Hipmen" is a David Murray composition (I know it from the octet performance on Home, but like many Murray songs I think he's recorded it several times).

Stef said...

Thanks Matt!

Anonymous said...

Great piece, Stef.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. Ethnic Heritage Ensemble’s Spirit Gatherer • Tribute to Don Cherry has been released by Spiritmuse Records. The album was dedicated to the incredible David Ornette Cherry after his passing (as well of course being a tribute to his father)