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11 December 2010

Don Cherry (Horizon)

This is the tenth Don Cherry record discussed here, and sadly the last to feature in these pages. I list it as self-titled but it's been reissued as Brown Rice, so I tend to think of it as such myself. 'Brown Rice' is the opening track, a composition for three electric pianos, acoustic bass, drums, electric bongos, vocals and tenor sax. It's also one of the most singularly unique compositions heard thus far in this project. The graphic score is printed in the sleeve, which a fairly symmetrical structured pattern - pianos start, other instruments come in and disappear, and even Frank Lowe's washed out sax blasts are indicated. The melodies are very similar to the structures we've heard on the last five or so records, particularly where Cherry is on the piano. But here, it's made ecstatic with electricity, and a nice 70's cop-show waka-chika underneath it all. The whispered/chanted vocals are just over your shoulder, peering into your soul, and it's unsettling yet inviting. It's a piece that explodes with colour; an all-time classic for sure, it embraces of psychedelic electric fusion while distinguishing itself. 'Malkauns' is actually my favourite track on the record, a slow dirgy tune that begins with Charlie Haden playing bass over a tambura drone. Shades of 'Song for Che' of course, as there's the same thoughtful pauses, but it builds into a pitter-patter jam with Cherry-streaked trumpet lines over everything. This record feels like a very conscious return to the sound of the pocket trumpet from those original Ornette Coleman releases, but transmogrified through Cherry's own musical journey from the preceding decade (this is the mid 70s, after all). On the flipside, 'Chenrezig' evokes dark African clouds (Hakim Jamil's bass style is striking different than Haden's, which is a contributing factor; Cherry's vocals are growly and gruff). But there's also moments that glide along like a taxi in the streets of New York in the late 70's, calmly rooted in a sort of magical squalor. Ricky Cherry's acoustic piano is recorded in a way that makes it sound like an electric piano; by the end he's just pulsing on chords while Lowe and Don Cherry are ripping things up. 'Degi-Degi' takes things to a close, getting back to the electric boogie-whisper of 'Brown Rice'. Haden's bass sounds like it's been put through a loop pedal (except I don't think such things existed back then); the non-stop circular base has more electric pianos shattering glass around it. Cherry's voice and Lowe's sax mostly trade off roles, emulating a sort of verse-chorus-verse structure, but like a great Can track, the magic is all between the pulses. And with this, it fades away, though it connects to 'Brown Rice' and forms a Moebius strip of a record. We can read a bit into the cover photo - Cherry is in front of the Watts towers, yet adorned in some sort of traditional dress and slightly blurry, as if in motion. There is a definitively more 'urban' feel to this record than the last few, though it's still seeped in a mysterious atmosphere, a bit magical.

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