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4 December 2010

Don Cherry - 'Orient' (Get Back)

Orient's title track, split over two sides, is a rambunctious and sprawling improvisational duo with Han Bennink (or technically a trio, as there is very minimally contributed tambura). Cherry and Bennink both move between instruments, with a heavy emphasis on repetitive, circular piano melodies to open and close the piece. In the middle is where the meat is, though it's always changing. One memorable part on side 2, near the end, finds Bennink's trashcan cymbal style as a nice ridge against an otherwise hypnotic, stuck-record piano riff. It's great to see these two together; the most interesting bit is where Cherry is singing (in a sharp yet earthy caterwaul) over Bennink's xylophone/steel drum freakout. Or at least I think so; it actually sounds like both of them are playing this demented afrorhythm, but Bennink is the master of sounding like two for one. The hybrid world-fusion than was begun on the Mu records feels like it's found a more confident footing while simultaneously being more loose -- such is the power that someone like Bennink can contribute. I always tend to equate Bennink with a more humorous playfulness than Cherry often displays, and the beginning of 'Orient' on side 2 has a Dadaist call and response horn part that is reprised at the end with Bennink emulating brass instruments with his own voice. It ends the whole collaboration on a goofball moment that's a new direction for Cherry, yet somehow not incongruous with his eversought earthpulse. 'Eagle Eye', a trio recording with Johnny Dyani and Okay Tamiz, is the next split-across-two-sides piece. It's significantly more meandering and less propulsive, but shows another side of Cherry. It unfolds slowly, with some bowed bass and a much more languid drum style -- in some ways I think Tamiz is more attuned to Cherry's heartbeat, though perhaps the results are less intriguing than with Bennink's iconoclasm. Some moaning/chanting gets the energy level up before it settles into a nice piano riff groove, spoiled only by the platter-dividing fadeout. On side 3, the groove returns and so does the chanting, with a few James Brown-style interjections ("Help me out! I need help!", to which Dyani responds with his bassline; "I've been trying to learn to sing, y'know, but I really need help...." and then more pleas for vocal assistance, assuring the listener (or the band) as to how simple the song actually is). Soon, some live crowd sound is mixed in, sounding like a huge cavernous space, almost like a fake studio effect but maybe they just swung the microphone to face the other way. But it is a live performance, as the ending applause reveals. 'Eagle Eye' does start to become tiresome, but at some indeterminate point the tune turns into 'Togetherness', where Cherry busts out the pocket trumpet and gives us some of what we've been waiting for. This is another solid piece, and a nice crowdpleaser as the aforementioned applause indicates. Side four reunites Cherry with Han Bennink, and the tambura is a bit more audible here (or maybe only present here and not on 'Orient' at all, I'm not sure). 'Si Ta Ra Ma' is a side-long song structured around a four-note melody which is extended through piano, tabla, singing and other formats. It's a minimalist deconstruction of a melodic figure not unlike the work of Henry Flynt or, much later, Richard Youngs' Advent record. It does feel like Bennink has to take a backseat and given my stereotype of Dutch free jazz, it almost feels weird to imagine him embarking on this chant. But that's a stupid preconception to have about someone as fluid and shapeshifting as Bennink, and he manages to refute it throughout the duration of the side. He's in pitter-patter mode consistently, whether it be tabla, steel drum, or blocky-sounding drums. His nervousness plays off Cherry's calm, and when the melody returns on piano, it's like the sun setting over the harbour.

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