A live album featuring tracks recorded at concerts in France in April and August of 1971. This is world fusion jazz, continuing in the tradition Cherry had established on such prior recordings as Eternal Rhythm and “mu” First Part & Second Part. While this might be less than those other efforts, it is still mighty fine. Cherry gained renown working with Ornette Coleman, and he seemed to draw from Coleman a kind of anarchic sense of egalitarianism. But while Coleman’s music presupposed mostly a base in American musical forms, working primarily with players steeped in bebop, blues, R&B, and rock, and balancing individual performances within those realms, Cherry took musics from different cultures and placed those different cultures on equal footing. Coleman worked with mostly monocultural styles, or at most with roughly binary juxtapositions of jazz and euro-classical composition. On Don Cherry (confusingly, one of a number of self-titled albums he released, but helpfully renamed Orient for reissues), there is room for extended passages, plus many shifts of styles, with a density that is semi-intimate while retaining a sense of fullness. Probably not the place to start with Cherry’s music, but a worthwhile stop in his catalog for fans of his other work.
In some ways, El Corazón is a continuation of Cherry’s “mu” First Part and “mu” Second Part from the late 1960s. Yet a lot had changed in the meantime. The duo of Cherry and Blackwell are certainly more contemplative and restive here. This album also features some of the trademark ECM Records chamber jazz sound. The album remains eclectic. There is a tribute to The Skatalites‘s sax man Roland Alphonso, a Thelonious Monk song, and various world music influences on display. Perhaps the best offering is the wonderful percussion-heavy piece “Near-in.”
Cherry leads an all-star cast through a “suite” with plenty of space for raging solos. Some bag on this album because Cherry refined and perfected the style later on Eternal Rhythm, etc. But taken on its own this is still fine stuff. The uniformly excellent performances make it worthwhile. Saxophonist Gato Barbieri has hardly sounded better, Karl Berger is stunning on vibes, and bassist Henry Grimes is sublime. Count this among Cherry’s best.
For me, this is Cherry’s single best album. It finds him and Ed Blackwell doing something with cultural musics from around the globe that no one else had ever really attempted before, and the results are astonishing. If it had to describe it, I would say it’s about stitching together common threads in seemingly diverse musical traditions from around the world in an earnest attempt to express something through Cherry and Blackwell’s personal connections to those musics. And what separates this from lesser visions that might fall under the category of cultural piracy is that this album reflects a legitimately deep understanding of and appreciation for the different musical traditions brought together, and a genuine sense of connection to what those traditions express. Importantly, these guys are NOT appropriating “world” music just to sound “exotic”. For those unfamiliar with Cherry’s late 1960s/early 1970s work in that vein, you might try Eternal Rhythm first, which is slightly more conventional and easier to absorb.