Don Cherry – Organic Music Society (1972; 2012 reissue)

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Photograph by Francis Wolff

Don Cherry was making world music before the genre had its own spot at the record stores, and that focus on new sounds always gives his albums a fizzy atmosphere of discovery — even pieced-together affairs like this one.

The layered, poly-stylistic feel of Organic Music Society, recorded between 1971-72, probably owes as much to its varied settings as it does to the pocket-cornetist’s well-known passion for artistic tourism. But because Cherry has so often drawn on a similar eclecticism, the project — being issued in 2012 by Caprice for the first time on CD — still fits seamlessly into a catalog marked by a series of thrilling left turns.

This represents one of them, as the late Cherry (then living in Sweden) discarded the small-band hierarchy of his time with Ornette Coleman for the communal, polyrhythmic, rather hippified ensemble work of these sessions — many of which were field recordings that captured impromptu musical moments. (In fact, Cherry’s two-part meditation “Relativity Suite” and the kaleidoscopically joyous “Elixir” are the only two studio efforts.) Just as he transcended categories in music, Cherry loosed the bonds of convention personally, as well. Here, we find him definitively moving past the idea — still firmly etched in the lore — of trumpet-playing sideman. Or, really, even something so routine as a trumpet player at all. Cherry also plays a variety of percussion instruments, flute and harmonium; he grunts, shouts and sings.

Along the way, Organic Music Society makes room for well-regarded local players like Bengt Berger, Christer Bothen, Tommy Koverhult and others, yet some of its more inviting surprises are like found objects — these out-of-nowhere delights. Collaborators move in and out of the proceedings, in an ebb and flow that mirrors the songs’ circadian rhythms. A then-unknown Nana Vasconcelos, for instance, appears out of nowhere on berimbau in the middle of “North Brazilian Ceremonial Hymn,” a mantra-inspired opening rhythm piece which brilliantly smashes together a low levee moan with this Far Eastern chant.

Cherry and Co. are featured in front of a 50-piece string orchestra of youths from Bollnas for “Bra Joe From Kilamanjaro.” The same group then reappears on the sweepingly dynamic second version of “Terry’s Tune,” in stark contrast to a initial, amiably open-ended take that featured appearances by uncredited “visitors and friends.” An ad-hoc choir of nearby elementary school teachers join in on the closing “Resa.”

That makes for an album that’s informal and friendly, spacious and welcoming — but still with just enough edge to make it involving. Organic Music Society lives up to its title, without ever becoming too cozy.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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