Don CherryHere And Now
Released 1977 on Atlantic
Reviewed by aether, 02/03/2010ce
For me, writing about Don Cherry in anything other than the gloriously prayerful is akin to blasphemy. But every magus misfires a spell occasionally and, for Don, the cloying, nagging call for commercial acceptance in late 1976/early 1977 sent his mystical muse awry, albeit momentarily. Indeed, in the rarely-seen documentary (made for Swedish television just after the release of Here and Now), ‘Don Cherry - This is Not My Music (1978)’, Don describes how he is now at a time in his life where he has to decide between being ‘a productive machine’ or ‘a human being that wants to create in tune with nature.’ And its to all our eternal benefit that, for the most part, after Here and Now he willingly returned himself to a life-long commitment to the latter.
On the flip side of that, on the rare live-recording of ‘The Fusion Project’ - which Cherry took out on the road to promote the Here and Now LP - he can be heard bemoaning the lack of chances major labels would give jazz musicians in these times to record albums. [Most of Cherry’s pioneering work up till this point was released on either obscure or foreign (or obscure foreign) labels: the MU LP’s on BYG Actuel; Orient and Blue Lake on BYG Japan; Organic Music Society on Sweden’s Caprice; Relative Suite on JCOA; and Eternal Now on Sonet - all have now been re-released in some shape of form thankfully, barring Organic Music…]. Thus, the indecision and lack of confidence that was affecting Cherry at the time is totally understandable; unfortunately, it also permeates most of this LP - his one real stab at major label acceptance and an obvious attempt to cash in on the burgeoning commercialization of jazz-funk and fusion music(s) in the late seventies.
That said, a Don Cherry LP bowing to commercial acceptability is a damn sight better than many other artists of the time reaching for similar acceptance, and there are moments of high-brilliance amongst the clotted, over-sentimentalized, clinical pap.
Of course, the main problem facing Cherry at the time was exactly how to follow up the world-fusion masterpiece of trance-like, spiritual atmosphere that was his previous release for A&M Records: Brown Rice (1975)? Indeed, where do you go after reaching the infinite?
Well, with the near 10 minute album opener, ‘Mahakali’ there is little to worry us yet; a sumptuous, Moki-stroked tamboura begins its weary, trance-inducing resonation. Colin Walcott’s sitar strikes up and the listener is immediately transported into that familiar, but never boring, ‘other’ place Cherry constructed so often. A call ’n’ response of trumpet and sitar articulates a few phrases before a more ritual/spiritual sounding sax intones a wearisome melody - Don responds, and a great streets of New York bass riff literally sluices itself of the ghetto floor - deep as fuck! Mahakali then erupts with a Miles-esque shriek of the horn and we’re into a more Rockist, fusion take on the Brown Rice vibe - strange electronic buzzes ‘n’ splashes are thrown around like small hand-bombs of musical graffiti as each musician solos like their life depends on it - Stan Samole’s lead guitar (anyone know much abut him?) is furious at times, huge waves of squealing guitar angst, enlivened by similar sounding saxophone and occasional keyboard stabs and jabs. This is the flavor for the remaining 6 minutes of the track.
However, “Universal Mother” introduces the first of many ultra bland moments. One thing Don Cherry’s muse had was an earthen authenticity that bordered on the spiritually transcendent - this seems in complete contradiction to the kind of over-produced, polished-to fuck, late seventies “Drive Time” smooth jazz vibe that is attempted here. Don’s spoken word Buddhist dicta don’t help much either, simply highlighting the above contradiction. There is a strong session musician vibe that creeps in here as well - a very considered approach that is technically perfect but is drained of passion and emotion at times. The track is a bouncy light soul-jazz number that the acid-jazz crowd probably worshipped at some point.
“Karmapa Chenno” follows - a slight improvement on the latter, but not much. It opens with Santana like percussion with a disco slant - could have come straight of their “Festival” LP. A sung jazz scat phrase is sun gin chorus as the track then settles into a groove, over which Don saves the day with one of his better trumpet solos. On a more general note, Don Cherry, in my book, is second only to Miles for that great lyrical emotion-packed trumpet styling. The longer version of this track - on the live 1977 “Fusion project” - shows that, live, Don had not succumbed to populist influence as much as perhaps people initially feared. It ends with mystical whisperings of the title mantra as a cuica stutters away and a great house-sounding piano riff rattles away amongst the myriad percussion and the wordless chant returns once more - giving way, finally, to canned applause! CANNED APPLAUSE!!! On a Don Cherry LP!!?? A marker, for certain, of this momentary lapse of reason!
“California” opens Side Two - a short instrumental very similar in style to “Karmapa Chenno”
“Buddha’s Blues” is just that - a short jazz blues full of popped bass twangs and juicy trumpet voicing(s) - Cherry’s horn slipping and a sliding all over the bouncy lilting rhythmic base. As if in some vain attempt to retain his ties with his World Fusion muse, the trumpet gives way to a flute, before returning to trumpet. Again, its not BAD, as such, its just mediocre, which is not what you expect from a bona-fide expressive genius, but, in the wider context, many jazz musicians were having crises of confidence at the time and why should Cherry be any exception.
“Eagle Eye” really does reconnect to Cherry World Fusion aesthetic - sounding more like one of the tracks of his great “Mu” duo LPs done with percussionist, Ed Blackwell. However, its frustratingly short and gives way to what is perhaps the most blandest track on the LP.
“Surrender Rose” is pure Hollywood jazz schmaltz - replete with angelic Jon Anderson harps and twinkling triangles. Urgghh, it really doesn’t warrant a close description to be honest.
Thankfully, Cherry ups the ante with the closing 10-minute, three-movement “Journey of Milarepa” which begins amidst racy percussion and a brooding bass pulse, as glassy Rhodes is splayed over the track like a fine mist. The bass begins to bounce and groove along (quite similar to the opening track of Larry Young’s “Lawrence of Newark”), as great sustained streaks of spacey guitar are mixed with yet more echoed Rhodes - the percussion getting more complex, as trumpet cry’s parallel the guitar voices. The whole thing ends up in a huge Miles like race to the summit, with numerous breakdowns and reruns, until it finally breakdowns into the lonesome solo flute movement “Shanti“- a melodious, birdsong-type call mixed with an undertow of rattlesnake like sounds, until a walloping four-four ur beat that probably has beat-diggers peeing their pants. A languorous fretless bass and spacey rolling waves of chromium guitar curl lovingly and sensuously around the beat, before tumbling into another Cherry ‘master-class’ trumpet break. This last movement, “The Ending-Movement Liberation,” stands up with any other great Cherry moment and is proof positive that, try as he might, even when reaching for the acceptance that comes with commercial blandness, Cherry simply cannot help but create real musical magic. The mark of a true creator!
Of course, reaffirming, and arguably extending, his muse, immediately after Here and Now, Cherry went on to make the first Codona LP - a masterpiece of World Fusion, and arguably one of the genre’s most important statements. He also collaborated on the little heard Music/Sangam with Latif Khan, another mysteriously, sublimely beautiful LP (now, thankfully reissued by Heavenly Sweetness). This allows us to sample the various delights of the Here and Now LP, safe in the knowledge that Cherry would overcome the imposing, but understandable, limitations he, and the LP, imposed upon himself.