By the early 1970s, trumpeter Don Cherry had moved a long way—geographically and musically—from the music that had earned him a reputation as one of free jazz's great innovators. Resident in Sweden, he had embarked on a pioneering exploration of world fusion music, incorporating a range of influences, notably African, Native-American, Indian and Middle Eastern. During this period, he still retained some links with his roots; in 1971 he was part of the ensemble that recorded Science Fiction with saxophonist Ornette Coleman. But increasingly the world influences were outweighing jazz in his music.
Recorded in the summer of 1972 with five different line-ups, in five different locations in Sweden and Denmark, Organic Music Society has long been unavailable and is now officially released on CD for the first time. Originally a double vinyl album, the CD runs for over 80 minutes. With only one of those five recording sessions being in a studio, the rest have variable sound quality, but that is not a major concern.
The album opens unpromisingly with "North Brazilian Ceremonial Hymn" which only consists of vocal chanting plus assorted percussion (it does include Nana Vasconcelos with whom Cherry would later form the trio Codona, alongside Colin Walcott). The piece contains lots of diffuse wordless chanting and tinkling bells but nothing to hint that Cherry is a great trumpeter. It lacks any sense of excitement, surprise or drama. Its twelve and a half minute duration feels far far longer.
The two-part Relativity Suite included here is a distant relative of the version that would eventually be released in 1973 on JCOA. Compared to that version, which features some awe-inspiring trumpet from Cherry alongside Carlos Ward on alto sax and Frank Lowe on tenor sax, this one centres on Cherry the vocalist and philosopher; interspersed with some wordless African chanting accompanied by drums and percussion, he recites his observations on a variety of topics including time, religion and meditation, none of which sound very profound or enlightening today—the world was a very different place back in 1972.
The album includes two different versions of "Terry's Tune" by Terry Riley, an indication of where Cherry's sympathies lay at the time. On the first, shorter, version, Cherry plays trumpet, exchanging phrases with Maffy Falay's muted trumpet and Tommy Golman's flute. A longer version finds Cherry and drummer Okay Temiz in the company of a youth orchestra that provides drone accompaniment; the track comes alive when Cherry injects some fiery trumpet.
Two other cover versions increase the quota of jazz relative to the world music. A taut version of Pharaoh Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan" is driven along by Cherry's piano before being given added spice by trumpet solos from Flay and Cherry. "Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro" by Dollar Brand is a prolonged trumpet solo from Cherry accompanied by the youth orchestra and Temiz.
Organic Music Society will probably appeal most to Don Cherry devotees and completists. There is just enough good Cherry here to satisfy the faithful, even though it is rather diluted. For others, there are many Cherry albums to acquire before this one. The lasting message that the album leaves is that Cherry was at his very best when playing jazz trumpet rather than flirting with mystic chanting and philosophy. Altogether, rather a curate's egg. (JOHN EYLES)