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Artist Profiles

The Humus of Don Cherry

By Published: October 20, 2005
By 1961, however, the quartet had disbanded, with Cherry and Higgins going to work briefly in Sonny Rollins' quartet, and Jimmy Garrison (Haden's replacement) joining Coltrane's band. In the few years that followed the dissolution of the Coleman group, Cherry underwent the difficulties that can face a sideman in a noted, working ensemble striking out on his own as a leader — namely, keeping a group together as well as trying to find one's creative way. Cherry made an abortive date as leader for Savoy in 1963, featuring the loose medley that would later become "Togetherness," as played by tenor man Pharoah Sanders (in his first known session), pianist Joe Scianni, bassist David Izenzon and drummer J.C. Moses. Reedman Prince Lasha, a schoolmate of Ornette's who met Don Cherry in Los Angeles as the Coleman quartet was coming together, recorded with "Sweet Cherry" in May of 1963 at a loft session also featuring Cliff Jordan, Charles Moffett and Sonny Simmons (It Is Revealed, issued on Zounds). Following a few short-lived bands, Cherry joined the New York Contemporary Five in October 1963, replacing trumpeter Bill Dixon (suffering from embouchure difficulties, he remained the group's chief arranger). This group, with reedmen Tchicai and Archie Shepp, bassist Don Moore and the aforementioned Moses, had a successful run in Copenhagen, recording two sessions for Sonet and two for Fontana (one sans Cherry), and featuring a number of compositions from Ornette's book as well as Cherry's own "Cisum" and "Consequences." "Cisum" (from volume one of the Sonet recordings) is particularly interesting, as it shows Cherry's unique compositional style at an early stage, the theme quite obviously an outgrowth of his solo style, a jagged construction that in parts recalls Ornette's music with its bar lengths mashed together, yet utilizing North African scales and a deep minor key for its structure (not to mention a militaristic 'call' signaling its entrée).

The Five disbanded in early 1964, with Shepp and Moses staying on in Scandinavia for a few months while Cherry and Tchicai returned to New York, where the trumpeter began to work off and on with tenor man Albert Ayler and drummer Sunny Murray in their respective (and combined) groups. In a way this was perhaps more fruitful than the New York Contemporary Five had been, for not only was Ayler's music as rooted in the folk tradition as Ornette's had been, Ayler was drawing his thematic references from traditional songs he heard while living in Scandinavia, bringing them into a free improvisational context and as he has said, "we play folk from all over the world" (interview with Frank Kofsky, quoted in the liner notes to Love Cry, Impulse, 1967). This sounds a lot like what Don Cherry's approach was soon to become, and in addition to both having spent time in Scandinavia, these perfect bedfellows probably influenced one another a great deal more than their few recordings together attest to. At the very least, Ayler's recordings of "Bells" and other loosely-stitched suites of military-marches, European folk songs and Afro-American blues became de rigeur after Cherry had moved along.

"Togetherness" was the loosely frameworked suite on which Cherry built most of his concert and recording repertoire over the next three years—fragments of it show up in all three of his Blue Note LPs, despite differing titles. When Cherry left the US for Paris in 1965, it did not take long for him to assemble a new working group, one that joined five itinerant musicians together for over a year (though the group's only recordings as a unit have appeared as bootlegs since its disbanding). In Paris, he met Heidelberg-born vibraphonist and pianist Karl Berger and the young French bassist Jean-Francois Jenny-Clarke; Cherry had brought drummer Aldo Romano and Argentina-born tenor man Leandro "Gato" Barbieri with him from Rome.

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