Music

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
Amazon
iTunes

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.

6

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image