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Don Cherry: Live at the Bracknell Jazz Festival, 1986

The mid-1980s were a pivotal period for Don Cherry. Much of his energies had been devoted to co-op projects like Codona and Old and New Dreams, and he also helped jumpstart the Leaders. The time being ripe to form his own ensemble, Cherry created Nu, a quintet with saxophonist/flutist Carlos Ward, bassist Mark Helias, percussionist Nana Vasconcelos and drummer Ed Blackwell. Live at the Bracknell Jazz Festival, 1986 confirms Nu to be an ensemble that vigorously and cogently articulated the various aspects of the multi-instrumentalist’s multicultural aesthetic. Released as part of the laudable BBC Jazz Legends CD series, this exceptional concert recording fills a significant gap in Cherry’s discography.

Spanning aboriginal drones, invocatory chantlike melodies and rhythmically charged, vamp-pegged blowing, Ward’s “Lito” is an exhilarating 22-minute opener that, upon its conclusion, begs the question: How do they top that? They don’t have to. Nu winds its way through two angular Ornette Coleman tunes, a feature for Vasconcelos’ berimbau, percussion and digitally delayed voice, and strong contrasting pieces by Ward (the gently swaying “Untitled,” featuring a scampering muted solo by Cherry, is particularly winsome), arriving at Helias’ “Limbo,” on which Cherry sings and plays the doussn’gouni, an African “hunter’s guitar,” and Cherry’s “Mopti,” featuring his rudimentary but appealing piano playing.

Though not as historically significant as Cherry’s woefully out-of-print Relativity Suite (JCOA) or his first Blue Notes, Live at Bracknell is a good indicator of why Cherry’s influence on subsequent generations is unique and apart from Coleman’s.

Originally Published