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Don Cherry: Organic Music Society

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On Ornette Coleman’s early sides as a leader, his trumpeter and principal cohort, Don Cherry, allowed experimentalism to air itself out while keeping a leg knee-deep in blues and bebop phrasing. Cherry always seemed more comfortable than Coleman with explicitly acknowledging his points of reference, and this stayed true even when those touchstones evolved to encompass traditions, both musical and spiritual, from around the globe.

Cherry recorded a quartet record of mostly Coleman’s compositions alongside John Coltrane in 1960, and later released a triptych of albums for Blue Note Records, essentially new ventures within the Coleman school of improvisation. But by the end of the 1960s, he’d thoroughly emerged from Coleman’s shadow, and it became easier to make some sense of their differences. 1968’s Eternal Rhythm-a two-part suite involving a small orchestra of improvisers and pointed, colorful use of the gamelan-let us know that Cherry wanted to say something truly of his own.

His 1972 double-LP, Organic Music Society, recently remastered and released for the first time on CD, gives us a fuller picture of Cherry as ensemble leader, spiritualist and cultural synthesizer. He’s at the height of his powers here. Seven of the 13 tracks are Cherry originals, and the others come from all over the map: He covers works by Dollar Brand, Terry Riley and Pharoah Sanders. Cherry plays precious little of his signature pocket trumpet, focusing on more rudimentary modes of expression-vocals and percussion, mostly-while blending concepts from Asia Pacific, West Africa and India.

The band (though society is the better word) swells to over 10 members on some tracks, but most contribute just vocals. On Cherry’s Relativity Suite, which spans almost 20 minutes, he sings over a bubbling, rattling flow on the log drums: “All I know is how it feels to love Krishna.”

Originally Published