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The three musicians who comprised CODONA are relatively well known, trumpeter Don Cherry in particular. Yet the group he formed with sitar and tabla player Collin Walcott and percussionist Nana Vasconcelos—hence CODONA—has been mysteriously neglected. Despite recording three superb albums for ECM between 1978 and 1982, CODONA remains perhaps one of the label's most underrated acts.

If there's any justice in the world, this three-CD box set will help put the record straight. Building on foundations already laid by the three musicians in various previous incarnations, it's hard not to conclude that these discs represent one of history's most successful fusions of jazz and so-called world music. It's all the more impressive, of course, since all three albums pre-dated the widespread use of that term by some years.

Vasconcelos' Brazilian heritage shines through in his use of berimbau and the high-pitched cuica drum; Cherry plays doussn'gouni, an instrument he'd learned in Mali, alongside trumpet and flute; and Walcott (like Cherry, a North American) draws on his training with Indian gurus Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha, as well as contributing African thumb piano. With the addition of the jazz, and a clear blues influence on "Clicky Clacky," a single track might see the music of four continents co-existing in an entirely organic amalgam.

Poetic and panoramic, many of the tunes have the open spontaneity of free improvisation, although the liner notes point out that ideas were sketched out first in correspondence, then in rehearsal, before each recording session. Jumping off points include traditional Japanese and African folk melodies and even, on "Colemanwonder," a medley of Ornette Coleman and Stevie Wonder tunes.

Probably the most memorable tracks, however, are those where everything is brought into focus with a vamped ensemble vocal. The chant is a dangerous weapon, mere hokum in the wrong hands, but "Mumukata" (from CODONA) and "Hey Da Ba Doom" (from CODONA 3) convey authenticity as well as ardor. In fact, it's the lack of such a track that makes the remaining disc (entitled, you guessed it, CODONA 2) the weakest of the three. Only in relative terms, however, the trio's succinct discography having no Achilles heel—lack of imagination in terms of album titles notwithstanding.

Track Listing: CD1 (CODONA): Like That Of Sky; Codona; Colemanwonder; Mumakata; New Light. CD2 (CODONA 2): Que Faser; Godumaduma; Malinye; Drip-Dry; Walking On Eggs; Again And Again, Again. CD3 (CODONA 3): Goshakabuchi; Hey Da Ba Doom; Travel By Night; Lullaby; Trayra Boia; Clicky Clacky; Inner Organs.

Personnel: Collin Walcott: sitar, tabla, hammered dulcimer (CD1, CD3), sanza, timpani (CD2), voice; Don Cherry: trumpet, doussn'gouni, flutes (CD1), organ (CD2, CD3), melodica (CD2), voice; Nana Vasconcelos: berimbau, cuica (CD1), talking drum (CD2), percussion, voice.

Title: The CODONA Trilogy | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ECM Records


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