Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Don Cherry
Organic Music Society 2LP


Released 1972 on Caprice
Reviewed by gogmagog, 24/04/2008ce


Don Cherry - Organic Music Society (1972 - Caprice)

"[Don Cherry's exoticism] is not that of the Orient and not that of Africa; it is the exoticism of Somewhere, the Here and Somewhere; and this means it is the exoticism of dreams." Alain Gerber, 1971

Despite its emergence there in the early sixties, the ‘free-jazz’ movement garnered a limited and very temporary acceptance in America. Following Coltrane’s death, many exponents of free-jazz sought refuge in the (mostly) welcoming arms of other musical styles (to the utter horror of the purist jazz-critics, and true delight of REAL music fans everywhere). Some merged the freedom of jazz with the rhythmic strictures of funk, for example, (Miles, obviously, but also Ornette Coleman’s out-there ‘free-funk’ project, Prime Time). Yet others would take their searches further afield, finding a welcome audience for this most experimental of musical forms, especially in Europe (Manfred Eicher’s ECM Records, for example). This literal movement east-wards was further compounded by a similar psycho-spiritual, inherently mystical movement towards non-western philosophies and cultures: a movement articulated, particularly, through the musical styles and techniques of various third-world countries.

Thus, the seventies were a time of real musical adventures and ‘travelogues,’ with many of the American free-jazz ‘exiles’ pioneering the blending of their own avant-garde styles with the traditional music(s) of India, Africa, Japan etc. Leading this burgeoning ‘World-Fusion’ movement, was the late free-jazz pioneer: Don Cherry. Having already released what many consider to be the founding text of World-Fusion: Eternal Rhythm (1968) on the hip German MPS label, Cherry had also provided BYG/ACTUEL with Mu (Part’s One and Two - 1969): a legendary freak-flute-and-horn collaboration with percussionist Ed Blackwell (the Mu LP’s, in particular, are the sound of your DNA imploding!!) Upping sticks in the early seventies to the Swedish hinterlands (were he would meet wife, Mocqui - a.k.a. Moki), Cherry gathered together a community of Swedish, Turkish, Brazilian, and American jazz-hippies, and set about creating this monumentally ramshackle, but eternally endearing, communal, free-jazz/world-fusion text, for the achingly obscure Swedish label, Caprice. Like Wegmuller’s Tarot, or Lula Cortez et Ze Ramahlo’s Paebiru, this is one of those out-there, early-to-mid-seventies, mystical ur-fucking-doubles!! - a massive musical tract that exists as a self-enclosed, universal totality - offering a myriad of psycho-musical landscapes that take in Africanised free-jazz and ritual percussion, Buddhist-funk, sublimely blissful minimalism, European free-folk, and mystical chanting. To whit, Don Cherry’s ORGANIC MUSIC SOCIETY.

It kicks of with percussionist, Nana Vasconcelos’ “North Brazilian Ceremonial Hymn,” 12 mother-fucking minutes of Manson Family-type vocal droning, as dreadfully sinister as it is sublimely meditative. Somewhere, wife Moki is stroking a tamboura, whilst other commune members intone a woozy, wordless chant that rises and falls like the setting of an ancient sun. Sounding for all the world like some long-lost abstract prayer to Incan generations past, Vasconcelos can be heard rattling what sounds like a big ole’ bag of dried voodoo-bones in the corner, before moving on to altogether more out-there percussive devices!! Before you know it, the dude is twinging, twanging, and oooh-weeeoooh-wee-oooh-weee-ing his way to enlightenment, and the solemn chant drones on. Soon, in a show of communal camaraderie, the commune begin emptying whole bin-bags chock-full of obscure percussive devices onto the floor, as the chant peaks. It then starts its downward trajectory, until all that is left is Cherry’s earthly hum, and the ever present, all-pervading tamboura drone.

“Elixir” conjures up an ancient forest glade at sunrise, Cherry’s breathy wood-flute melody gently persuading tentative creatures out of their night-time abodes to bask in the sun. A fertile and primal landscape is concocted, as this solo flute piece twitters on for a few minutes. Until a sudden cry is heard amongst the forest canopy, that is. Shit! the animals are back in their holes before you can say ‘free-jazz,’ taking cover, as a rumbling barrelhouse piano gallops into earshot; crazily thwacked drums propel an ancient boogie-woogie piano assault - until its breaks down again into more muttered African-type yelps - only to erupt again.

Again, like most of Cherry’s orchestrations of this period - a background Indian drone is set up for Hans Isgren’s beautiful “Manusha Raga Kamboji‘” - some of Cherry’s plaintive, African-type, folk-song vocal moaning accumulates alongside it (before literally jumping out of the mix); its has a very soothing vocal presence, a sort of universal lullaby, a panacea for all the ills of the world. In all seriousness, though, we are journeying headlong into the mystic here - the REAL (and modern) world left far, far behind. Hans Isgren chokes his sarangi - a kind of strange Indian instrument that looks like a violin inside an ornate music box (only held like a mini-cello) instrument - which growls and coughs out a grating discordant, dread-filled string piece, the music turning on a darkly religious vibe - calling the (devilishly) faithful to prayer.

Next up is a two-part, early run-through for Cherry's fascinating 1973 release, Relativity Suite. That said, the version is very formative, and bears only a passing resemblance, at times, to the finished LP. “Relativity Suite Part 1,” for example, begins with African chanting across a strange lolloping, kangarooing, percussion track over which Cherry lays down his musico-philosophical raison d’etre. Many spiritual proclamations follow concerning “the frustration of temptation,” et al. - mixed, intermittently, with Cherry’s strange bird-like vocal shrills and Buddhist om-chants. Cherry’s voice - never his main instrument - displays a beautiful timbre at times. “Relativity Suite Part 2” follows in the same vein - describing his “organic manifesto” more assertively over a deep, deep, DEEP, marimba-like bass-line:


Spiritual development by the aid of music / Who are the heroes of imagination?
A five-pointed star, a crescent moon, and a hawk!

[And so on…Could have come straight off the back off a Santana LP - No wonder Alejandro Jodorowsky immediately signed Cherry up to help with the soundtrack to The Holy Mountain (1973) - a huge meta-spiritual quest saga, partially bankrolled by the Lennon’s, and originally set to star George Harrison in the lead role of “the Thief”].

Actually, if any part of this colossal LP starts to drag it is almost certainly here, as the two parts of this ‘suite’ reach upwards of 18 minutes in total. Cherry does change tack slightly with the next offering, “Terry’s Tune,” his version of mystic American minimalist, Terry Riley’s own tune - a kind of late-Can-type repeat-athon, with some great free-jazz flute perched precariously over the top; it breaks down into a chaotic, entropic, avant-garde battle between Turkish percussionist, Okay Temiz’ fiery drums and Cherry’s trumpet conjuring - a rampant few minutes in any one’s musical book.

This leads in to one of the most beautiful pieces Cherry ever wrote - and one of his late-period, signature works: “Hope” (later recorded for Relativity Suite under the name “Desireless” with sax replacing the voice). A golden flurry of rippling piano chords (ala Alice Coltrane and, also, Magma’s own John Coltrane ode’ “Coltrane Sundia” from Kohntarkoz), and a yearning, wordless wail issues from Cherry. He sounds like he is bearing all the troubles of the world single-handedly, and, yet, is still willing to humble himself before us all. Spell-bindingly beautiful in its soul-baring simplicity, the tune develops into a steady-paced piano & vocal chant - a hymn to an earlier ‘age of the Ancients.’ 10 minutes of free-bliss - the flutes, and sun-drenched cymbal strokes, adjoining the groove to create pure musical manna from heaven.

Indeed, listening to the music of Don Cherry (and reading up about the man), he comes across as one of the most humble characters you could ever wish to meet - a true mystic, a journeyman, - one jazz critic even described him as a ‘wood nymph,’ trotting down New York streets.

[Don’s step-daughter, Neneh Cherry, tells an endearing story about her early days living with him in New York. Don would take her, and her step-brother, Eagle Eye, to ride on the subway, where he would suddenly whip out an African Wood Flute with out a moments notice, hassling both children until they joined in the impromptu improvisation! What a guy!! Believe me the world needs more people like Don Cherry].

Pharoah Sanders’ (free-)jazz-soul anthem “The Creator has a Master Plan.” is covered next by Cherry (both musicians had featured on most of the important free-jazz and ‘avant-garde’ recordings). A quick-paced piano gallop (unnervingly similar to jazz-standard: Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”), is then replaced by that well-known two-chord vamp, arriving to tell us that the creator, does indeed, have a master plan. More dancing flute and rolling drums create a loose-limbed take on the Sanders standard - as great jazzy trumpet fills in the spaces with woozy runs - very messy, but endearingly so! In fact, there is a generous and humbled pastoral quality scored right through the very core of this LP, very much in keeping with the late-sixties/early-seventies hippie-commune ethos it extols. This track finishes amongst some crazy brass flourishes and thwacked drums - until Cherry and his magical cohorts waltz off into the sunset on that ever-rolling, two-chord groove.

“Sidharta” and “Utopia and Visions” are two more pastoral-side-of-Magma-type tunes - all sun-dappled piano, and wordless chant doubled on piano/vocal - makes me wonder how much of Don Cherry's music those elder priests of zeuhl had heard prior to the Kohntarkosz sessions (given the date of this LP). This merges into another version of “Hope” (indeed, this melody must have obsessed Cherry, reappearing on a number of LP’s in different versions). This later version is more instrumental , with some marvellous Garden of Eden-style flute playing, giving a vibe that is, on a more general level, similar to the last eight minutes of Popol Vuh’s gorgeous “In den Garten Pharos.”

“Resa” finishes the LP in a slight sinister style - a huge communal vocal chant by the Swedish Youth Orchestra who, by the sound of it, have seemingly been lured into some haunted underground cavern with promises of mystical enlightenment (and session fees!!) - Cherry gathers these tribes together to ululate a resonant, but wobbly-pitched, kind of guttural chorale. Herrmann style rising/falling string-sequences accompany this unearthly groan. This track (especially the strings) also has a strange Indian or Arabic flavour to it - sounding distant - as if beaming in from another psychic plane - and is backed up by some great swing-type drumming, only for that eternally unending Terry Riley riff to reappear out of nowhere. All manner of strange vocals are now emanating from the lost corners of the mix. All the while, the woozy string sequence creates some type of strange sonic sea-sickness in the listener, who, by this time, is either travelling blissfully upon the astral plane - OR - alternatively, muttering discontentedly about “those fucking free-jazz types!!”


It’s quite a unsettling end to an amazing 80-minutes, or so, of musical mysticism. Ragged, but sublimely beautiful, endearingly simple and, at times, frustratingly complex, melding the ancient and the modern - all the essential paradoxes of the human condition are engaged at length in Don Cherry’s Organic Music Society.


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