DON CHERRY - ORGANIC MUSIC SOCIETY
Oh boy, it's been a special week of music indeed, whether the greater populace of planet earth knows it or not (they don't, trust me on that). Not only was the monumental Can 3CD box of previously unissued gems, The Lost Tapes, released to the public (I'll cover it at a later date), but one of the great "lost" LPs of the early '70s - of any genre, and I say that because it's nigh impossible to peg a genre it could neatly fill - has finally been re-released for the first time in 40 years(!). I've tried getting my hands on Don Cherry's Organic Music Society 2LP set from 1973 for nearly a decade, and I've never seen it listed on ebay for less than $200, never seen it locally and never in my life would I pay such stupid money for a goddamn record. So the only copy which has been in my possession all these years is a burn I downloaded from a blog about 5 years back. Faaaaark that! Now I've got two big chunks of 12" wax in my hands, housed in a stupendous gatefold sleeve w/ all-new liner notes by jazzbo all-rounder John Corbett (the man responsible for Atavistic's Unheard Music Series, which saw some mighty discs by the likes of Fred Anderson, Joe McPhee, Sun Ra, Evan Parker, Peter Brotzmann et al back in print), and funnily enough, it's actually back in circulation on the very same label which released it all those years ago: Sweden's Caprice, a label which, from what I can gather, performs a public service documentation-of-sound not unlike Folkways or France's Ocora imprints.
I have written about the genius of Don Cherry several times before on this blog, noting that, in particular, his recorded output from the years approx. 1965-1975 represent some sort of epoch of recorded sound, not unlike that of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane from the same period, or Miles Davis from 1969-1975: a shapeshifting beast which could not be defined, one which incorporated elements of avant-jazz, world music, psychedelia and an indefinable something which separates it from most music as we know it. For Miles, that je ne sais quoi was his absolute bullheadedness, his willingness to take his musical vision to the nth degree, releasing album upon (double) album of impenetrable acid-funk to a public which didn't appear to care at the time (except for the Japanese). For Alice Coltrane and Sanders, it's the deep spirituality - even for an agnostic heathen such as myself - which lends the music an otherworldly quality, but Cherry's music from this period is something else. He was living in Sweden at the time - self-exiled from the US and refusing to live in his homeland until Amerika pulled out of Vietnam - w/ his Swedish wife, Monika Karlsson, his son, Eagle-Eye and step-daughter, Neneh. There they lived in a school, existing semi-communaly w/ musicians both local and from around the globe. The Swedish musos in question look like cast members from the Baader-Meinhof group. The nature of the music within is far removed from what many people would consider jazz. For myself, it has far more in common, musically and aesthetically, with the anarchistic, communal sounds of Can and Amon Duul than what one would even often refer to as "avant-jazz".
Organic Music Society is not the best Cherry album there is: let's get that straight. For me, that's a toss-up between two very different discs: 1971's live 2LP epic, Orient (a desert-isle disc for me) and 1975's Brown Rice, a relatively slick studio effort from 1975 on A & M which features the great Frank Lowe on screeching tenor and combines deep grooves w/ free jazz and ethnic rhythms, sounding like the perfect meeting of Can and Miles. There are others, and I have spoke of them before (his 3 Blue Note LPs from the late '60s, Eternal Rhythm, Tibet, Blue Lake, Mu parts 1 & 2, the Codona trio albums on ECM, etc.), but let's discuss the one in question. The only drawback with OMS is the questionable recording quality of a couple of the tracks, most notably the ones listed as being recorded as part of the "Dome Session" (I wish those tracks had been remastered and the sound levels pushed up considerably, as they are much quieter than other parts of the record), but that quibble aside, there is much to recommend here: the opening cut, "North Brazilian Ceremonial Hymn", featuring his Codona partner, Nana Vasconcelos, is an excellent start, an epic chant which sets the scene. The two long pieces on side B, "Relativity Suite" parts 1 & 2, are beautifully minimal percussive/vocal numbers; and "Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro" (a Dollar Brand tune), "Terry's Tune" (Terry Riley) and "Resa" round out the set perfectly: the latter featuring "the voices of teachers at the summer course in Oskarshamn", and "Bra Joe..." featuring a youth orchestra. The version of Pharoah Sanders'/Leon Thomas' "The Creator Has A Master Plan", unfortunately, also would've been a whole lot better had the recording quality been slightly clearer.
OMS is a hodge-podge collection of tunes pieced together from various recording sessions (mostly mobile recording units) featuring various and varying line-ups, but pieced together it makes a radical statement of intent: a mixture of personnel and sounds from around the globe - jazz, psychedelia, ragas, African and Brazilian chants, minimalism - all housed in a gloriously gatefold garish cover which possesses the psychedelic day-glo of classic kraut on the outside and the cut & paste amateurism of DIY punk on the inside. Placed right next to the likes of Tago Mago, Yeti, Disaster, Get Up With It, Dark Magus, Live-Evil, Big Fun and Cherry's other essential records of the period like Orient and Blue Lake, it's a totally essential 2LP "head" set I can recommend without any hesitancy whatsoever.