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7 December 2010

Don Cherry/Krzysztof Penderecki - 'Humus - the Life Exploring Force/Actions (For Free Jazz Orchestra)' (Everest)

This odd pairing isn't really the unified synthesis of Polish avant-garde composition and free jazz pulse that it would suggest. Really, this is the product of the New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra, a free jazz big band populated by some of the giants of European free music. Manfred Schoof, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Rutherford, Peter Brötzmann, Wilem Breuker, Han Bennink, Terje Rypdal, Gunter Hampel and others -- such a collection of titans has rarely been assembled before! Cherry and Penderecki, two giants in different but occasionally overlapping worlds, probably don't share the stage at all on this recording. Side 1 is Cherry leading the band through his piece and side 2 is Penderecki, with Cherry absent. The labels are applied to the wrong sides on my copy, so I began by listening to side 2, which is the final 5 minutes of Cherry's 'Humus' and then Penderecki's composition, 'Actions'. 'Actions' is well-suited for this group - the many trumpets and saxes combine at both the beginning and the end to create a deep, throbbing drone that's both beautiful and malevolent. The chaotic parts remind me of the Globe Unity Orchestra recordings from around the same time period, no doubt due to some personnel overlap. But I file this under C for Cherry, because it's 'Humus' that is the more interesting piece. The orchestra, accentuated by Cherry, Loes Macgillycutty on vocals, and Mocqui Cherry on tambura, reads Cherry's melodies quite straight, giving a marching-band punch that I've never heard before in any of Cherry's music. Loes' singing is pretty much the icing on the cake (I like icing); she's fluttery and brash, but doesn't overdo it, sitting out long sections. The different movements of 'Humus' are broken down on the sleeve and the entire band stays to the script. But this is a script that allows a lot of improvisation. I think I can recognize Brötzmann in a few points, and Macgillycutty manages to punch her voice along with the instruments quite seamlessly. The coda, on side 2, brings back some of the Sanskrit chants heard on the last few records, with Cherry speaking to the crowd and trying to lead a complicated count on the 1, 5 and 13 beats. He almost talks more than he plays here, but it's a nice reprise of what's now a familiar theme ('Sa-re-ga-ma-pa-dha-mi'). Everything explodes in blast of cacophonous jazz blowing, and then we're out. (Well, actually this is where the Penderecki piece starts, but I'm trying to assess this in the proper order. Kinda like when my friend went to see Matrix 2, and the cinema screwed up and started showing the middle of the film first, and then the beginning came at the end.) I feel like I would be missing an opportunity if I finish this writeup without making some joke about 'hummus' but, well, there ya go.

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