Don Cherry Live at Cafe Montmartre 1966 Volume Two ESP Disk
Trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry has long been a somewhat enigmatic figure. His well known beginnings with saxophonist Ornette Coleman soon gave way to Cherry's increasing interest in world music, where he would become an important conduit between jazz and "world music" through his own multinational take on improvisatory musical forms. The second in a series of recordings culled from a month-long residency in Denmark, Live at Cafe Montmartre 1966 Volume Two sees Cherry honing the techniques and approaches that would become the signifiers of his career.
The residency, which occurred between the recordings of Cherry's first two albums, Complete Communion (Blue Note, 1965) and Symphony for Improvisers (Blue Note, 1966), sees him gathering an international array of musicians to work out his ideas. Argentinian saxophonist Gato Barbieri, who plays on both of Cherry's first dates, is joined by German vibraphonist Karl Berger, an important presence on Symphony for Improvisers as well as Cherry's important Eternal Rhythm (Saba, 1968). Danish bassist Bo Stief and Italian drummer Aldo Romano round out an impressive lineup whose potential for group interaction perfectly suited Cherry's techniques.
After a brief introduction, the unit opens with Brazilian composer Luis Bonfa's "Oafeu Negro," whose bossa nova rhythms are dissected in a spirited improvisation that stretches the piece's boundaries far beyond the musical terrain of its homeland. All members play with elastic ease, giving the work a near ceaseless momentum before Cherry and Barbieri turn it into a softly caressing ballad that Romano infuses with a near militaristic pulse. The following "Suite for Albert Ayler" opens with Ayler's famous "Ghosts," whose stop-start rhythms are well suited to this unit's undulating sense of time. Berger's solo and subsequent vibe work infuses the ensemble's sound with a weightlessness and sense of mobility as Cherry's own "Awake Nu," later to be played on Where is Brooklyn? (Blue Note, 1966), appears midway before a return to Ayler's melody.
"Spring is Here" explores a variety of jazz standards and Coleman compositions. The group's ability to take non-original material and infuse it with its own sound is remarkable; not once does the group subside into mere "cover" band territory. The musicianship is far too capable and the group too resilient for that. "Remembrance," the final movement of Complete Communion, is explored with this same sense of communal interplay, in which each musician is equally in tune with the others. No one member is ever relegated to a backup role, providing these wonderful melodies with a vibrancy and life distinct from their studio versions. This is also the case with the incomplete recording of "Elephantasy" and the closing "Complete Communion," the longest excursion on the disc. Hearing the interlocking horn lines of Barbieri and Cherry, both of whom had already had ample opportunity to explore the piece, is as much a pleasure here as it was on the studio album, while the increased group size gives it a richness all its own.
1966 was a fruitful year for Cherry, and Live at Cafe Montmartre 1966 Volume Two endures as one of its major achievements. The unit plays with the rare ease afforded them by their lengthy booking, making the album one of great importance in Cherry's catalog. That the recordings sound as lively today as they did when they were made is testament to the strength of Cherry's musical character and his accomplices' sympathetic musicianship.
Tracks: Intro; Orfeu Negro; Suite for Albert Ayler; Spring is Here; Remembrance; Elephantasy (Incomplete); Complete Communion.
Personnel: Don Cherry: trumpet; Gato Barbieri: tenor saxophone; Karl Berger: vibes; Bo Stief: bass; Aldo Romano: drums.