Jazz CD Reviews

Don Cherry – Organic Music Society (1973) – Caprice/Caprice Reissue Series

Don Cherry and Organic Music Society: a living, breathing multicultural, multi-instrumental portrait.

Published on July 16, 2012

Don Cherry – Organic Music Society (1973) – Caprice/Caprice Reissue Series

Don Cherry – Organic Music Society (1973) – Caprice/ Caprice Reissue Series CAP 21827 (2012), 80:07 [6/11/12] (Distr. by Naxos) ***1/2:

(Don Cherry – vocals, percussion, harmonium, flute, conch, h’suan, trumpet, piano; Naná Vasconcelos – vocals, merimbau (track 1); Moki – vocals, tambura (tracks 1, 13); Helen Eggert – vocals, tambura (track 1); Steen Claesson & Roger Burk – vocals (track 1); Christer Bothén – donso n’goni, gnaoua guitar, piano (tracks 2-5); Bengt Berger – mridanga, log drums, drums (tracks 2-5), tablas (track 13); Hans Isgren – sārāngi (track 3); Maffy Falay – muted trumpet (tracks 6-10); Tommy Goldman & Tommy Koverhult – flute (tracks 6-10); Tage Sivén – bass (tracks 6-10); Okay Temiz – drums (tracks 6-12))

Don Cherry’s career took him many places, geographically and musically. For example, he helped spearhead post-bop music with seven albums when he participated in Ornette Coleman’s group, as well as membership in the New York Contemporary Five alongside Archie Shepp. But Cherry’s most innovative work was as a solo artist and leader, principally after he moved to Sweden and became progressively interested in other, frequently non-Western music styles. It was during his four years in Scandinavia that Cherry significantly shifted his musical ethos to include African, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and South American influences and crafted a spontaneous impulse which dovetailed organic (i.e., unfiltered and earthy), multicultural (embracing all music, but predominantly folk and traditional elements) and multi-instrumental (democratic use of percussion, wind instruments, vocals and other musical tools, some not typically aligned into jazz). Cherry began this process with his 1968 record, Eternal Rhythm, and followed with the Mu sessions (1969) and then on several other projects through the ‘70s and ‘80s. Smack dab in the middle of this fruitful era was the studio/live venture, Organic Music Society (first issued in 1973), recorded at various Swedish venues in 1971 and 1972. The double-vinyl LP featured new original tunes, some of which would later show up in different configurations on Relativity Suite (1973), as well as likeminded cover interpretations. Organic Music Society was long out of print, but thanks to the Caprice label’s reissue series, this ethno-musical, free-jazz document is finally available again as a packed 80-minute single CD digipak which includes a 24-page booklet with Jan Bruér’s 1973 liner notes, archival photos and John Corbett’s new 2012 text, which puts Cherry’s life and music into an historical context.

The 13 tracks have a loose-limbed aspect accented by the sometimes amateurish recording process. Only four pieces were laid down in a recording studio with stereo equipment; the rest was taped on mono machines in occasionally unfavorable conditions, although ironically the live cuts at times are more animated than the studio efforts. Cherry’s collaborators on Organic Music Society range from his wife and children to Swedish musicians steeped in both jazz and indigenous music from diverse countries and future noteworthy artists. On ethereal 12-minute opener, “North Brazilian Ceremonial Hymn” by Brazilian composer Nelson Angelo Calvacanti, Cherry’s large ensemble introduces then-unknown vocalist Naná Vasconcelos (who would go on to perform with Pat Metheny, Jon Hassel and Egberto Gismonti). While varied percussive instruments (including Vasconcelos’ use of the merimbau, a single-string percussion instrument popular in Brazil) rise and ebb during the arrangement, a droning vocal chant is incorporated throughout, which provides a meditative and spiritual undercurrent. Near the end, one or both of Cherry’s children (Eagle-Eye and/or Nenah) can be heard crying in the background, which gives the tune a you-are-there affectation.

Cherry then guides a separate large band through four studio tracks. First there is the upbeat, twisting “Elixir,” a six-minute endeavor which has a sense of barely controlled freedom and is initially fronted by Cherry’s gentle, solo wood-flute melody, until piano with hints of boogie woogie, and rumbling drums and percussion, barrel in. Cherry then carries the lead role with his African-tinged chants; and then the rolling piano/percussion takes over once again and Cherry switches to his emotive pocket trumpet. The number segues into a condensed raga-inclined solo, “Manusha Raga Kamboji,” with Hans Isgren on the Indian sārāngi, a bowed, short-necked string instrument which can closely resemble the human voice. Isgren’s improvisation acts as an introduction to the extended, two-part “Relativity” suite, an 18-minute epic which is a developmental summary for Cherry’s absorbing, full-length 1973 album of the same name. The first section includes grooving percussion, over which Cherry utters a pseudo-philosophical rap and a sustained, wordless mantra. Part two follows in the same manner:  Cherry outlines his organic music manifesto, while the same groove forms a deeper foundation. This is the only time when the material lags a bit due to Cherry’s prolonged intonations and the incessant rhythmic strategy.

There is a difference between repetition and minimalism, however, and Cherry shows his understanding of the latter on two versions of Terry Riley’s “Terry’s Tune,” one done as a shortened studio reading and the other a rough but also more dynamic live translation organized with a Swedish youth orchestra: the only caveat is the poor sound quality which is muffled, in mono, and where some instruments are lost in the low-fidelity setting. Two other covers are also notable: Pharoah Sander’s “The Creator Has a Master Plan” and “Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro,” penned by Dollar Brand (aka Abdullah Ibrahim). The six-minute-plus Sanders piece comes from a Stockholm museum exhibition Cherry participated in, and contains a fine two-trumpet duet between Cherry and Sevda’s Maffy Falay, along with two flute players, bass, drums and piano. The Coltrane-esque cut is probably the closest item to direct jazz in the set list. The hesitant, two-minute “Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro” is less stellar, partially because it was recorded at the same location as “Terry’s Tune,” with the same low-tech results and the same, inexperienced youth orchestra. Nevertheless, there is an honorable spontaneity which streams through the track. Organic Music Society is not meant for the uninitiated. If you have never heard Cherry’s wildly uninhibited late ‘60s and early ‘70s music, this may be too much to bear. But for those in the know, Organic Music Society is an essential historic creation which is an important part of Cherry’s musical journey.

TrackList: North Brazilian Ceremonial Hymn; Elixir; Manusha Raga Kamboji; Relativity Suite Part I; Relativity Suite Part II; Terry’s Tune; Hope; The Creator Has a Master Plan; Sidhartha; Utopia & Visions; Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro; Terry’s Tune; Resa.

—Doug Simpson




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