Live at Bracknell Jazz Festival

COMPOSERS: Carlos Ward,Coleman,Vasconcelos
LABELS: BBC Jazz Legends
ALBUM TITLE: Don Cherry’s Nu
PERFORMER: Don Cherry (t, doussn’gouni, p, vcl), Carlos Ward (as, f), Mark Helias (b), Ed Blackwell (d), Nana Vasconcelos (perc, berimbau, vcl)
CATALOGUE NO: BBCJ 7004-2

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A live performance by Don Cherry was an unforgettable experience. Visually, it was captivating: what with Cherry’s cheerfully stoned, Mr Bendy body language and his array of exotic instruments strewn around the platform. Musically, it was invariably a mystery tour of world music, hard bop grooves and free blowing.

His Nu group was interesting because it combined several of Cherry’s incarnations: drummer Ed Blackwell who he played alongside in Ornette Coleman’s Fifties free groups; Panamanian altoist Carlos Ward, who provided the bridge between free and ‘world music’; and Nana Vasconcelos, who helped him absorb Brazilian music. So this session, recorded in 1986 (Cherry died in 1995), reveals all those different aspects of the avant-garde multi-instrumentalist.

The opener, and nearly half an hour-long ‘Lito’ is a tour de force. Driven by a surging bass vamp, Cherry takes the Carlos Ward composition out of Africa to the boho lofts of New York by way of Amazonia. This is followed by two blasts from Cherry’s harmolodic past, the keening of Ornette Coleman’s ‘Chopin Chopeen’ and the frenetic fast-forward action of ‘Traffic’. ‘O Berimbau’ is a beautiful set piece for and by Vasconcelos, with the Brazilian percussionist using reverb and chants behind the tangled, metallic sound of the bow-like instrument.

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By contrast, Ward’s ‘Untitled’ swings deliciously with the chameleon Cherry skimming its surface on pocket trumpet, sounding for all the world like a paid up member of the cool school. Gripping stuff. Garry Booth