Don Cherry, who passed away in 1995 at age 59, was a world musician long before the term became fashionable. Two recent early '70s reissues - Orient
and Blue Lake
(both previously Japan-only releases), help to solidify Cherry as not only one of the greatest (pocket) trumpeters/cornetists that jazz has known, but also one of its most well-rounded musicians.
His global approach and experimentations on Orient
(1971), two live dates with separate trios, is supplemented through one half by Dutch percussionist Han Bennink and East Indian tamboura accompaniment. Bennink keeps things constantly moving as Cherry's nomadic musical-self transitions between pocket trumpet, flutes, piano and chanting on the first and last tracks ("Orient" and "Si Ta Ra Ma"). The title piece gets underway with tom-tom drum crescendos spilling over Cherry's Alice Coltrane-like arpeggio runs on piano and humming chants, before segueing dramatically into the leader's frenetic brass playing and Bennink's polyrhythmic percussive displays. After a few minutes the pace changes again with more wooden sounding drumsas well as gongs, bells, chimes, and "small" instruments (as memorably utilized by the Art Ensemble of Chicago).
The other half of Orient
features the legendary South African bassist Johnny Dyani and percussionist Okay Temiz. Dyani's plucked and arco bass opening to the first movement of "Eagle Eye"accompanied by a wistful clay flute, wind-like chimes, and sensitive drum tappingresonates with the magic that often inspires bassist William Parker these days. The second allegro movement is much more rhythmic and borders on an outpouring of emotion. The third movement then settles the rhythm into gear with a meditative and melodic humming chant offered to the crowd by Cherry. Both trios feature masterful improvisational interplay by what would seem greater than a mere threesome; the experience is captured exquisitely.
The ever-evolving Cherry was a true music master whose example was an anomaly for record labels and music stores. It can never be stressed enough that Cherry, to borrow Ellington's catch phrase, was most definitely "beyond category," making the world a much smaller place.
Note: this review originally appeared in All About Jazz: New York .