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Organic Music and Beyond: Don Cherry Collaborations (1962-1986)

Written By: 
Phil Cho
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Hidden gems in the Don Cherry catalog including collaborations with Sun Ra, Terry Riley, and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

The “organic music” of free jazz trumpet player Don Cherry has been experiencing a bit of a resurgence recently. Last year saw the release of an incredible lost Cherry album Om Shanti Om from the artist’s beloved “Brown Rice” period. In June, Brooklyn-based non-profit publisher/label Blank Forms Editions will release a 496-page book dedicated to Don and his wife Moki Cherry’s artistic work, along with two more ‘lost’ Cherry albums – The Summer House Sessions, and Organic Music Theatre: Festival de jazz de Chateauvallon 1972.

From the label: “In the late 1960s, the American trumpet player and free jazz pioneer Don Cherry (1936–1995) and the Swedish visual artist and designer Moki Cherry (1943–2009) began a collaboration that imagined an alternative space for creative music, most succinctly expressed in Moki’s aphorism “the stage is home and home is a stage.” By 1972, they had given name to a concept that united Don’s music, Moki’s art, and their family life in rural Tagårp, Sweden into one holistic entity: Organic Music Theatre.”

Find more information on the upcoming Blank Forms Editions releases here.

In anticipation of these upcoming releases and to share our love for Cherry’s music, we’ve put together a list of a few of our favorite lesser-known Don Cherry side projects from his early post-bop days to his later “mystical” era and all the global collaborations along the way.

Image result for Steve Lacy With Don Cherry ‎– Evidence

Steve Lacy With Don Cherry ‎– Evidence (1962)

The best Thelonious Monk album ever recorded… without Monk! Soprano sax player Steve Lacy presents four Thelonious Monk and two Duke Ellington pieces on Evidence with his quartet featuring a young Don Cherry. Lacy was a Monk obsessive, releasing multiple albums of Monk tunes, and eventually played in Monk’s band for a short time. Cherry’s playing here is surprisingly gentle, especially on the haunting “The Mystery Song,” where he blends perfectly with Lacy’s soprano.


Don Cherry, François Tusques, Bernard Guérin ‎– La Maison Fille Du Soleil (1965)

A short, 7-minute long EP featuring two giants of free jazz, La Maison Fille Du Soleil captures Cherry in collaboration with young pianist François Tusques, who had just recorded one of the first ever French free jazz albums. Free jazz would take over France in the late 60’s and this record marks an important milestone of that era. Cherry would head to Sweden, Germany and Italy soon after and have similar lasting effects on the music scenes there.


Image result for Jon Appleton & Don Cherry - BOA

Jon Appleton & Don Cherry – BOA (1970)

An experimental avant-garde oddity, BOA sees Cherry collaborating with electronic pioneer Jon Appleton. Cherry plays cornet here along with various percussion instruments and flute. It’s a difficult listen for sure, but completely unique and an important showing of Cherry’s endless creativity and openness to experimentation. The album artwork and gatefold design by Moki Cherry is beautiful, as well.


Image result for Alejandro Jodorowsky, Don Cherry, Ron Frangipane - The Holy Mountain Soundtrack

Alejandro Jodorowsky, Don Cherry, Ron Frangipane – The Holy Mountain Soundtrack (1973)

Don Cherry and studio musician Ron Frangipane team up with cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky on his psychedelic epic The Holy Mountain, delivering a highly visual, hallucinatory soundtrack. In Jodorowsky’s own words, the score was “another kind of music—something that wasn’t entertainment, something that wasn’t a show, something that went to the soul, something profound.”


Image result for Terry Riley / Don Cherry / Karl Berger ‎– Köln

Terry Riley / Don Cherry / Karl Berger ‎– Köln (1975)

A psychedelic, minimalist masterwork recorded live in the same venue as Keith Jarrett’s classic The Köln Concert, the album Köln – February 23, 1975 was never released officially and only exists in bootleg formats. The bootlegs have become highly valuable, and rightfully so: The music here is profound, with a special transcendental quality that can’t be easily expressed with words… A proper deep listen is recommended!


Image result for Masahiko Togashi With Don Cherry & Charlie Haden ‎– Session In Paris

Masahiko Togashi With Don Cherry & Charlie Haden ‎– Session In Paris, Vol. 1 Song Of Soil (1979)

Deep, spiritual free jazz from Japanese drummer/percussionist Masahiko Togashi, Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane bassist Charlie Haden. Haden’s bass is especially beautiful here, resonating along a full frequency spectrum with open notes, chords, harmonics, and other unconventional bass techniques. He creates a kind of buzzing, almost sitar like sound with the bass strings in one section of the track below!


Image result for bitter funeral beer

Bengt Berger ‎– Bitter Funeral Beer (1981)

This one was included in our Five Jazz Records from the 1980’s You Should Own piece but we’d be remiss not to mention it here as well… As we wrote earlier, “Swedish percussionist and composer Bengt Berger released a string of rhythmic albums across the 1980s, and each is its own world. A virtually unknown entity in the U.S., his stuff is informed by rhythms he’s absorbed across decades of travel. The mesmerizing 1980 album with Don Cherry, Bitter Funeral Beer, is a sublime first-glimpse into his work.”

Image result for Codona 3

Codona ‎– Codona 3 (1983)

One of our favorite ECM Records bands, Codona features Cherry alongside sitar player Collin Walcott and Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos. The band’s name is a bit cute – composed of the first two letters of each of the group members’ names. All three of the “world jazz” albums they released are great, but we’ll pick this one for the trippy cover by Moki Cherry. Sadly, the project ended in 1984 when Walcott passed.

Sun Ra ‎– Stars That Shine Darkly (1985)

First performed on the Sun Ra All Stars: Milan, Zürich, West Berlin, Paris tour, Stars That Shine Darkly is truly an “all stars” release. Featured on the record are legends Lester Bowie, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, and Don Moye of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, along with Arkestra regulars Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, Eloe Omoe and Clifford Jarvis. The two-part almost 40-minute long epic is melodic at times, mostly chaotic and completely entrancing… classic Ra! 


Tony Vacca & Tim Moran With Don Cherry & Tim Wolf ‎– City Spirits (1986)

Featured in the “Organic” section of Chee Shimizu’s Obscure Sound record guide, City Spirits is a project by “world music” specialist Tony Vacca and reed player Tim Moran. Vacca plays a stunning array of African percussion instruments here including balafon, talking drum, blekete, clay drums, njeera and paiste gongs, while Cherry joins in on his signature pocket trumpet and doussn’gouni (Malian lute).


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