Don Cherry
Brown Rice

Released 1975 on A&M
Reviewed by gogmagog, 29/11/2007ce

Let me say this much: Don Cherry was one radical, forward-thinkin’ mo-fo, make no mistake! Yes, this cat played on "Free-Jazz", for Frith’s sake, 1959’s original squak-athon par excellence. He also collaborated with Krystof Penderecki on Actions in 1969 - tempting the Polish arch-modernist into the realms of free-jazz (& rock) expression I’m told, for which they were joined by Peter Brontzman and Terje Rydal; another LP to look out for. As if that wasn’t enough, Cherry also contributed to the soundtrack for Alejandro Jodorwosky’s surreal epic of psychedelicised psychosexual shock and Buddhist mysticism: The Holy Mountain (1973). This was all BEFORE releasing one of the most impressive exercises in Jazz/World/Funk/Psych hybridisation.

After seeing out his apprenticeship with Ornette Coleman, Cherry first made a splash (or perhaps a "squak") of his own, with his 1966 LP "Symphony for Improvisers." I do find this work simply too left-of-field to be of any real worth, however. Indeed, I’ve always believed that the avant-garde composers of the sixties - be they classical or jazz - made they’re best works when they made a small concession to populism. Hence, Penderecki’s St Luke Passion (1966) sounds much more powerful, and much more disconcerting as a result, than his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima of (1960); because, for me, it articulates the antagonisms BETWEEN populist and experimental cultural idioms. And such is the case with Cherry’s Brown Rice (as opposed to Symphony…).

Track 1: “Brown Rice” - A plonked piano and ghostly female vocal intone a world-weary 8-note refrain, until a wah-ed up double-bass and guitar start to funk it up in the background. Adding percussive exclamations, Cherry himself then begins whispering mystical sweet nothings into our ears. An eerie spirituality pervades the very essence of this whacked out piece, prompting huge bird-like shrieks from the sax - speaking in tongues indeed! - and frequent “Tcka-Tcka Tcka’s” from Cherry’s vocal, like he's auditioning for that Yello track that was massive around the time of acid house! This opening number “Brown Rice” is a truly beautiful piece - funky, but light and airy at the same time - lots of space between - it has religious connotations and a righteous groove - almost Motorik in its insistence - that eight-note sequence never giving up. We never really hear his prayers to the Brown stuff - but given Don suffered a 20 year-long addiction to heroin - we might not have to think long and hard? Maybe he just really dug rice! It doesn’t matter, what counts is the groove right? And this is one hell of an opening to this truly awesome hybrid-Jazz, rites-of-passage.

Track 2: “Malkauns” - begins with a chiming tamboura (Cherry was apparently trained in composition for wood flutes, tamboura, amongst other sundry musical instruments), and the huge lolloping wah-acoustic bass of Charlie Haden begins to blossom, long gurgling notes keeping the tension taut, until, eventually the piece picks up tempo and Cherry’s Miles-like horn tattoos you into submission. Ok, maybe it goes on a little to long at the beginning, but no cunt was ever gonna tell these jazz cats to edit man, it was to unhip. And when the groove kicks in, we are again into those highest soaring melodies that only Africa-centric Miles reached (esp. Sketches for Spain) and possibly Coltrane - the plains are opening up to the landscape of the psyche, and we are all truly humbled. Max Roach-like Rat-at-tat drums churn away, until it lollops to a pause, with that long, luxurious bass twang and tamboura returning for the coda.

Track 3: “Chenrezig” - Ethnic chanting shows the diversity of Cherry’s musical scope, as this dude regularly deployed World music influences into the overall jazz idiom - of course (as Ken Scott claims apropos of some composer or other in his landmark TV movie), it was precisely Jazz that had the elasticity of definition to cope with such disparate influences - that musicians like Terje (pronounced “Terry”) Rydal, Miles Davis, and Don Cherry would subsequently bring to bear on the movement in the seventies - a process which would leave many of the jazz ‘classicists’ aghast Summoning some long lost beast an African-sounding vocal chant - the bass is a complete rumble - like a load of bricks covered in rubber in Faust’s cement mixer - until this slowly breaks into a full-on Magma-ed-to-the-max piano strut, strange Vander-esque vocal effects but done on trumpet - huge squealing sax blasts of discord rub against the incessant piano riff while Cherry scat sings. Actually, its remarkably akin to the Lula Cortez’ et Z Ramalho LP I reviewed a while back and has a very ritualistic feel. God, the seventies were great weren‘t they!! Everyone mystical-ed out of their mind. ACE! This track is very Magma, an African Magma maybe. Funnily enough, he even does some very Julian Cope-like staccato screams at the end. Listen Out for them. - Julian on - is it Going Upwards at 45%? - to a tee!!

Track 4: “Degi-Degi” - A sequenced synthesiser of some sorts and a oily electric guitar skate away (on the thin ice of a new day - sorry couldn’t resist it), Cherry’s ominous whispered vocal is back, insinuating itself into the subconscious, while chiming Rhodes are patted along to the speedy synthesiser sequential. [Tangerine Dream if Cherry would have guested on their Cyclone LP maybe]. This is fantastic stuff! An inspiring headlong groove tumbles along while rum guitar-phonk slithers around the arrangement - loitering with intent or should that be malcontent!! Cherry is whispering about “the Goddess of Music,” and we are truly all tranced out by this point - huge celebratory trumpet blasts out - a right ole’ royal hoedown. There is really nothing much like this that I can use for a comparison - Cherry’s Brown Rice is that original - there are hints of Magma, Bitches-period Miles, Nosferatu-period Popol Vuh, the Holy Mountain soundtrack, even the proto-rap of Last Poets et al. Its all here and more!!

What can I say. Its one of those true epiphanies for me.


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