Don Cherry Live At Cafe Montmartre 1966
A little over a year after trumpeter/composer Don Cherry debuted his European quintet in Rome and Paris, resulting in a brief return to New York and the beginning of a short-lived Blue Note recording contract, he reconvened his multi-national ensemble for a tour resulting in this Copenhagen concert, recorded live at the famed Jazzhus Montmartre.
The composition of the group is essentially the same as that which produced the album Togetherness (Durium, 1965, later reissued on Inner City), featuring Leandro "Gato Barbieri on tenor saxophone, Karl Berger on vibraphone, Aldo Romano on drums, and Danish bassist Bo Stief replacing Frenchman Jean-Francois Jenny-Clarke. The band runs through a series of medleys and themes related to those found on Cherry's Blue Notes, including "Complete Communion, as well as several "Cocktail pieces that mine similar thematic territory.
Cherry's troubadour-like qualities informed heavily what would otherwise be "merely a crack five-piece improvisational jazz unit. Thematic material from North Africa, India, and throughout Europe, as well as pop tunes of the day, fed into the suites the group played. Unlike an Ellingtonian medley, Cherry's "Togetherness pieces are often culled from things he personally hears (say, on his ubiquitous transistor radio) and the group follows or complements the melodies at a moment's noticewhether or not they know the tunes.
Hence, it's key that Cherry picked such an empathetic ensemble to share in this musical journey. Barbieri is an excellent foil for Cherry, and it's possible that their melodic statements hold together better than the trumpeter's work with Ornette Coleman. At this point in his young career, Barbieri was a tenor firebrand building a language up from John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins towards a defiantly humanistic cry. Though more well-known for later, pop-jazz "fusion records, let it not be said that his own project of embracing both free jazz and South American folk music isn't without precedent in this band.
Rhythmically, this version of the quintet operates somewhat differently from the New York variant, which had Ed Blackwell in the drum chair and bassist Henry Grimes. Romano combines a loose, chattery swing out of the Kenny Clarke bag, interspersed with free-time action playing (allowing soloists a "rug-less format) and a decidedly competitive, contra-rhythmic approach of stabs and inversions. It's a weird amalgam of support, motion and counteraction that gives the music a decidedly raw, unwieldy edge.
Stief is somewhat under-miked here; he's usually associated, along with drummer Alex Riel, with providing rhythmic support for expatriate US hard bop musicians in the 1970s, though he did work in a 1966 Steve Lacy aggregation as well. Jenny-Clarke was probably the bassist most in tune with this music, but Stief provides able grounding and drive for the ensemble's flights. Berger's vibes are metallic barbs, piercing the ensemble at odd moments, and operating more as melodic ornament and counterpoint than in a chordal role. At times, it does seem as though he's saddled with reigning in the banshee-like wails, as on the outset of "Music Now. Comping is entertained as an idea, but Cherry, Romano and Stief are off at a run, and Berger thus gives a bit of hot white pastel to the edges of the hornmen's highs.
It's probably unnecessary to recount where the various thematic fragments come from, and on what other of Cherry's records they might reappearthe point is that this music is but one snapshot of a continually evolving group music, and one which did not end after the dissolution of this quintet. Cherry's music affirms unity among cultures and their art, and gets to the heart of music's ability to communicate the most basic of human feelings. For that, Cherry's tunes will always be "Togetherness.
Tracks: Intro; Cocktail Piece; Neopolitan Suite: Dios e Diablo; Complete Communion; Free Improvisation: Music Now; Cocktail Piece (end).
Personnel: Don Cherry: pocket trumpet; Gato Barbieri: tenor saxophone; Karl Berger: vibraphone; Bo Stief: bass; Aldo Romano: drums.