PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Don Cherry: Organic Music Society

Available for the first time on CD, Cherry's 1972 album is a fascinating but sprawling mess of a record to dig back into.

Don Cherry

Organic Music Society

US Release: 2012-05-17
Label: Caprice
UK Release: 2012-06-11
Label Website

Don Cherry is about as vital a figure as there is to find in the world of free jazz. He was the man on an endless string of classic Ornette Coleman records -- The Shape of Jazz to Come, Twins, so on and so forth -- and then played on Coleman's later greats like 1971's Science Fiction and Broken Shadows. He also made his name as a frontman, releasing The Avante-Garde, his collaboration with John Coltrane, Complete Communion and other great albums.

But Cherry, like so many jazz greats, got even more exploratory as he aged, and 1972's Organic Music Society is as far out there as Cherry ever got. It's available now for the first time on CD, and it's a fascinating, sprawling mess of a record to dig back into. It both shows the extent to which he spread out here -- in fact, you'd be hard pressed to call what's on this record jazz -- and the reach of his influence. The album was recorded with Swedish musicians while Cherry was living in Sweden with wife Moki Karlsson. Cherry lived and played there a long while, and his influence is deep in Swedish jazz circles, but Organic Music Society also reaches beyond that to African, Turkish, and Brazilian instrumentation, Indian religion and philosophy, and even back to American jazz.

The way in which the album was recorded reflects Cherry's wandering ear. Only two tracks were recorded in proper studio settings, while the rest were recorded in different live settings. The collaborations here also check in from all over the map, from Cherry's work with composer Terry Riley -- two versions of Riley's "Terry's Tune" appear here -- to percussion from Turkish musician Okay Temiz to Brazilian berimbau player Nana Vasconcelos.

With so many different players and parts, the one true charm of Organic Music Society is its loose unpredictability. The album's title suggests the commune-like settings in which the album was made, and Cherry and his cohort indeed explore deeply here with no eye for a conclusion, no eye for an answer. Long vocal opener "North Brazilian Ceremonial Hymn", with its slow, shuffling hand percussion and group singing sounds like an incantation, like a group of like-minded wanderers syncing up to go on a quest. From there, "Elixer", which finds Cherry playing everything from his signature trumpet to harmonium and flute, explodes into a much more fiery sound. Over Bengt Berger's chaotic drumming, harmonium surges quietly, but it's those quick-run bleats of trumpet that bring the movement to life. "Relativity Suite", played here in two parts, is the anchor of the record, and finds the drifting noise of the early tracks to something a bit more thumping. Christer Bothen plays the doson n'goni, an African hunter's harp, and along with deeper percussion and Cherry's improvised vocals, you can hear the influence of African music coming through here. You also get a feel for Cherry's wide-open philosophical leanings -- "there must be a fourth way to flow with time," he muses at one point. "This is the organic way." -- and how they mesh with his equally borderless music.

The album runs 80 full minutes, but for all its exploration, the most exciting stuff here draws a clear line back to his free-bop days. "Hope" is a sprawling 10 minutes, but the clanging keys and horns sound more approachable without sacrificing inventiveness. Cherry's take on Pharoah Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan" is another stand-out, a piano-led romp through the mind of another spirituality-minded jazz pioneer. The two versions of "Terry's Tune", though very different, draw similar lines, running down Cherry's new spiritual rabbit holes while still showing us his classic knack for unruly vamps and meshing smooth instrumentation with raucous percussion.

That mix, of the serene air of horns and the frenetic energy of drums, informs much of Organic Music Society in that it represents a duality of the spiritual journey -- the goal of calm beset on all sides by the irrepressible zeal to find that goal. Like so many explorations into personal philosophy and spirituality, though, Organic Music Society ends up feeling insular. These players created their own world in which to make this music and, beautiful as it can be, it is also often impenetrable. Any connections made in the improvised vocals that fill up the record are evident only to the speaker, Cherry, so we're left to scramble and find something in his half-realized thoughts. The music too does seem to have a clear path for the players, but leaves few breadcrumbs for us to follow behind, so while you'll be taken by a drum fill here or a squall of noise there, the album isn't likely to stick with you as an experience. There's a lot to admire about Organic Music Society and its Multi-Kulti approach to music (jazz and otherwise), but that doesn't mean you'll know what to make of it all.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.