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Don Cherry - Live At Café Montmartre 1966, Vol. 3

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Artist: Don Cherry

Album: Live At Café Montmartre 1966, Vol. 3

Label: ESP-Disk

Review date: Apr. 7, 2009


Don Cherry - "Remembrance" (Live At Cafe Montmarte 1966, Vol. 3)


The way Don Cherry dealt with the whole world was unprecedented in jazz. In the ’60s, when he convened the band that made the three volumes of Live At Café Montmartre 1966, the jazz community’s usual level of engagement with anything other than Latin rhythms was of the “look at this souvenir from my trip” model typified by Horace Silver’s The Tokyo Blues or Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite. Both are fine records, but they’re hardly steeped in the lore of other lands. John Coltrane once invited an oud player onstage at the Village Vanguard, but hardly addressed the instrument’s tradition. Cherry, on the other hand, spent much of his life living oceans away from the Oklahoma flatlands of his youth, picking up indigenous styles and instruments along the way.

The band he brought to Denmark in 1966 catches him on the verge of that grand journey, still rooted in jazz but already tapping into the international. While it was nothing new for an American soloist to be backed by locals on European tours, this quintet’s pan-national complement was unprecedented: tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri came Argentina, vibraphonist Karl Berger from Germany, drummer Aldo Romano from Italy, and drummer Bo Stief was a Dane. But although the music they played was jazz of an uncompromising stripe, it wasn’t the multi-culti mix that Cherry would craft just three years later with drummer Edward Blackwell on the two volumes of Mu.

Cherry’s stand at the Café Montmartre falls in the middle of his three-record sojourn with Blue Note Records. The root material and the saxophone player come from Complete Communion, the first Blue Note LP (and more recently a source of inspiration for Mats Gustafsson and Ken Vandermark), but the addition of vibes points toward Symphony For Improvisers and Where Is Brooklyn? But there’s no pinning this band down; the Complete Communion themes are just starting points for Cherry to go wherever whim takes him.

On the preceding Montmartre volume, he took on themes from Albert Ayler and the soundtrack of Black Orpheus; on Vol. 3, it’s bebop terra cognita in the form of John Lewis and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Two Bass Hit” and bebop turned on its head in a brief cha-cha that sounds awfully close to “Salt Peanuts.” But whatever the tune Barbieri and Cherry work from at any given moment, they sound like they’re trying to leave it behind. Sometimes they solo simultaneously, with little apparent regard for each other’s direction; always, there’s a palpable thrill in the way they fly from one idea to the next in a way that feels far more freewheeling than the precisely executed version that had gone down in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio the previous Christmas eve.

Berger’s capacity to orchestrate this joyously unstable music with brittle clusters is impressive. The rhythm section, on the other hand, does its best just to keep up; Romano sounds a bit panic-stricken and a beat behind whenever the horn players depart from the themes, while Stief mostly sounds like he’s simply trying not to get in anyone’s way. The execution on Live At Café Montmartre 1966, Vol. 3 is quite ragged compared to Complete Communion’s, but that’s not a liability. Instead it’s a testament to Cherry and company’s readiness to let the music take wing and fly wherever it wants to go.

By Bill Meyer

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