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Don Cherry: Modern Art

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This limited-edition CD and LP, recorded at Stockholm’s Museum of Modern Art in 1977, includes selections from trumpeter Don Cherry’s 1977 Hear & Now, a fusion-tinged outing that generated some controversy when it was released. Although it doesn’t quite live up to its billing as “Hear & Now unplugged” (only five of the 13 songs-“Universal Mother,” “Eagle Eyes,” “Karmapa Chenno,” “Mahakali” and “California”-are from that LP), Modern Art provides a rare opportunity to hear Cherry reinterpret that material in a primarily acoustic setting.

Despite its pervasive spirituality, this is no exercise in New Age navel-gazing. Cherry ascends and soars, firing off multi-note fusillades with spitfire ferocity and blatting out tongue-stop-toughened extended phrases. As he did on Hear & Now, though, he also lays out frequently, letting flutist Tommy Koverhult and guitarist Georg “Jojje” Wadenius take the spotlight. According to percussionist Per Tjernberg’s liner notes, Koverhult arrived at the gig late, unfamiliar with most of the material, but he was a longtime Cherry compatriot and fit in seamlessly. Brilliant, full-toned and as improvisationally fearless as Cherry himself, he also summons a powerful rhythmic thrust alongside Tjernberg and fellow percussionists Peter Ek, Moki Cherry (Don’s wife) and Lena Ahlman. Wadenius alternates feathery leads with resonant chording, and he contributes chants, prayers and wordless imprecations throughout the set, seemingly having mastered not just the vocabulary but the rhythmic syntax and vocal timbre of traditional Indian devotional singing.

As is now widely acknowledged, Don Cherry was playing “world music” long before it was called that; even aside from the historical significance of the five Hear & Now offerings, this set gives us an essential glimpse of this facet of his legacy.

Originally Published