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Don Cherry: Home Boy, Sister Out

Chris May By

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Don Cherry was in the vanguard of not one, but two uprisings which changed the face of jazz. He pioneered both the free-jazz revolution of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the world-jazz movement of the 1970s. Home Boy, Sister Out, first released on the French label Barclay in 1985 and reissued in summer 2018 on WeWantSounds, catches Cherry dipping his toes into a third upheaval. But first, the backstory....

In 1957, Cherry was a founder member of the iconoclastic Ornette Coleman group which, unable to secure paying gigs because club owners considered it too far out, began life playing for friends in Cherry's mother's garage in Watts, Los Angeles. From 1967, when he made the first of many exploratory expeditions through Africa, the Middle East and Asia, Cherry further energised jazz by grafting on non-Western musical traditions. His choice of instruments was as multi-faceted as his music. In the early years, he was most often heard on pocket trumpet, a miniaturised version of the standard instrument with unique tonal qualities. He also played the standard trumpet and the cornet. As he became involved in world-jazz, Cherry adopted an additional range of instruments, notably including the Malian doussu n'gouni (which crops up again on Home Boy, Sister Out) and the metallophones which form part of the Indonesian gamelan.

Fast forward to Paris in 1985. Significant numbers of musicians from Francophone Africa were living and recording in the city, which had become a centre of world music. Francophone and Anglophone culture, then as now, was separated by language and history, but outward-facing musicians from New York were also plugging into the Parisian scene. Among them were bassist/producer Bill Laswell, whose Celluloid label was in fact headquartered in Paris, where it was run by the "colourful" Corsican Jean Karakos, and guitarist/producer Ramuntcho Matta, French-born but in the mid 1980s with one foot in downtown New York. Laswell subsequently became the most prolific and successful of the two genre-benders, but Matta's catalogue—which includes producing Home Boy, Sister Out—is worth checking out, too.

Cherry was in the mid 1980s based in Paris when he was not globetrotting, and Matta first recorded with him there in 1983. With Beat poet Brion Gysin, who had created the "cut up" writing style with William Burroughs in a junkie hotel in Paris in the 1950s, Cherry and Matta made the single "Kick," on which Gysin recited his own ostensibly anti-heroin lyrics over a backing track featuring Cherry's trumpet obbligatos.

"Kick" is included as a bonus track on the WeWantSounds reissue of Home Boy, Sister Out. After opening with the doo-wop-inspired "Call Me," the rest of the album is mostly avant-funk, featuring Cherry on vocals (he could sing and rap convincingly) and pocket trumpet, backed by a killer line-up of French and African musicians. There is some light and shade, however, with "Art Deco," midway through the tracks, providing a gentler groove—a longer version of the tune would become the title track of a relatively straight-ahead album Cherry recorded for A&M in 1988.

A worthwhile reissue and a reminder of one of the most tirelessly exploratory and culturally inclusive African-American jazz musicians of the twentieth century.

Track Listing: Call Me; Treat Your Lady Right; Butterfly Friend; I Walk; Art Deco; Rappin' Recipe; Reggae To The High Tower; Alphabet City; Bamako Love; Kick (single version); Rappin' Recipe (instrumental); Benoego; Initiation (demo); Treat Your Lady Right (bim bam bom).

Personnel: Don Cherry: pocket trumpet, vocals, doussu n'goni, piano, synthesizer, melodica; Ramuntcho Matta: guitars, bass, keyboards; Jannick Top: bass; Negrito Trasante: bongos, congas, talking drum, rhythm box; Elli Medeiros: backing vocals (2, 9); Brion Gysin: vocals (10); Abdoulaye Prosper Niang: drums; Jean-Pierre Coco: congas; Fil Mong: bass (10); Claude Salmieri: drums; Fil Mong: bass; Jean-Pierre Coco: congas; Polo Lombardo: konks.

Title: Home Boy, Sister Out | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: WEWANTSOUNDS

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