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28 November 2010

Don Cherry - 'Complete Communion' (Blue Note)

If you've ever needed evidence of why record geeks often prefer mono pressings of things, listen here. This record sounds so unbelieveably good, that I have trouble believing it's almost 45 years old. This particular pressing is in mint fuckin' condition as well, so I'm always a bit hesitant to actually, y'know, play the thing. But just like I one day learned to accept that it's okay to lose brain cells, I learned to enjoy Complete Communion -- completely! This is Cherry's first solo LP for Blue Note, one of a trilogy (of which I am missing the middle entry, my fave, Symphony for Improvisers). The band is Cherry, Gato Barbieri, Henry Grimes and Ed Blackwell, and it's divided into two four-piece suites, 'Complete Communion' and 'Elephantasy', all penned by Cherry. 'Complete Communion' is an incredibly advanced subversion of jazz melodies. It's an iconic tune, one of the few from the avant canon that I can actually hum unprompted; yet throughout all four of its segments, whenever you feel the harmony about to hit, either Cherry or Gato ducks away from it, and goes to some weird minor second interval, just for a second. It's a series of marginal disruptions, but Grimes and Blackwell roll through everything with such a peppy momentum that you never really settle in it. The tune is a great one too, sprinkled with vaguely Iberian spice (perhaps this was written specifically for Gato?) and a lot of range in its monaural glory. We don't need separate channels for the cornet and sax, because these guys have a great way of responding to each other and establishing a complementary relationship, even though they mirror melody lines more than a few times. I can really hear how influential Cherry was on Don Ayler, because he has this way of playing a line that feels like he's mumbling it, out of the side of his mouth (yet through the cornet mouthpiece). It's those casual gestures that keep me coming back to music. Blue Note's high quality studio no doubt contributes to the 'classic' status of these records, because some of the 70s records don't have the same clarity that this does. Blackwell's cymbals in particular manage to sit just perfectly in the mix. Grimes is maybe the least obvious element, though halfway through 'Elephantasy' he gets a nice bowed string solo which folds back into the group before outstaying its welcome. 'Elephantasy' in general is a more fluid, exploratory piece. It's tempo shifts sometimes suggests the space of the lounge, and at other times, a menagerie. I actually find it a bit less exotic than 'Complete Communion' though maybe the title is supposed to suggest adventures in India. Of course. we're still a few albums away from Cherry's complete communion with the pulse of the earth, if such a thing is to be believed -- there's still a solid footing in post-bop free-jazz, which is a nice anchor. Total righteousness all around.

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