5 minutes to make you fall in love with Don Cherry

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It was clear from the way Don Cherry played the trumpet that he was not passionate about any one instrument. Okay, that sounds like a faint compliment or an arch – but it’s not. The splashes and whistles of his horn, a mixture of playfulness and deep spirituality, make it clear that the vessel he uses does not matter. By the late 1960s, Cherry was playing flute, keyboards, percussion—any instrument he could get his hands or lungs on. In 1978, he formed Codona with multi-instrumentalists Collin Walcott and Nana Vasconcelos, who had a similar mission. Like Cherry, both men sought to trace folk music traditions and blend them together enough to find something like a universal language. This is certainly the idea of ​​”Trayra Boia” in Codona 3 (1983), a smoky, half-whispered voice repeating a mysterious chant. The only instrument we hear is Cherry’s trumpet, harmonized and serene with another falsetto. At the end of the song, the trumpet disappears for a moment and a louder, brighter singer comes in, with a familiar playful spirit: clearly, this is Cherry – the ever-present voice behind the trumpet.

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When I was researching spiritual jazz artists, I stumbled upon Don Cherry’s two-part album “Eternal Rhythm.” The first few seconds of “Part 1” feel like a summons: Cherry summons my attention and patience, then curiosity and calmness. Maybe it was the humming on the vibraphone and the bird-like chirping on the flute that put me into a trance. The flutes are talking to each other. I guess Cherry plays two flutes at the same time. Therefore, listening to his voice is like having a conversation with yourself.

I really wish I could find video footage of this game online so I can see exactly who was playing what. I tried rewinding the audio over and over to understand this sonic conundrum. Some sounds mimic electronics but are not listed. According to the liner notes, the electric guitar is the only electronic instrument played. And the prepared piano adds an interesting tone. Cherry was able to somehow incorporate technology into this wonderful work through acoustic instruments. Years later, I’m still curious about the process.

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In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the debate surrounding fusion raised questions about the future of jazz itself. For many on both sides of this debate, integration is a fraught proposition. Will incorporating electronic instruments and rock aesthetics into jazz erode the genre, or will fusion open up new possibilities that will take the music into the future? In a way, Don Cherry’s 1976 recording of “Universal Mother” answers the second half of that question with a resounding “yes.”

Over soaring electric guitar, harp and funky syncopated grooves from bassist Neil Jason and drummer Steve Jordan, Cherry’s sweet and playful delivery of “Universal” Mother” center. With a shout-out to the women in his family before him and to the Los Angeles community of Watts that raised him, Cherry delivers a colorful and funny ode to motherhood, community, and the karmic ties that bind all living things together. In 1976, the track sounded very modern and could be considered a precursor to genres such as psychedelic jazz and hip-hop. Today, debates about the merits of fusion are largely a thing of the past, and Mother of the Universe remains a reminder of just how fruitful music can be in the hands of a master like Don Cherry.

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By the time Don Cherry and Moki Karlsson settled in Sweden in the late 1960s, Cherry had moved away from what some considered jazz. Sure, it has the rhythmic and harmonic textures of the genre, but the music feels free—unencumbered by an arbitrary title. Don and Mokey held a jam session in an old schoolhouse where they lived. One can hear actual children’s voices in the mix, cooing softly at first and then fading away as the piece becomes more intense.But even as the tune unfolds, gradually settling into a raucous pace around the 14-minute mark, the whole thing never feels Serious. Instead, everything feels relaxed and carefree, like sunlight peeking through the windows. Ultimately, I think that’s the key to Cherry’s greatness: see what happens; see what happens; just let it be.

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