Ornette Coleman may have started the free jazz thing, circa 1960, but trumpeter Don Cherry was the Johnny Appleseed of Ornetteology, sharing and extending his boss's ideas on both sides of the Atlantic. In New York, he worked with such peers as John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Steve Lacy. In Europe, he gathered younger, less-known players such as those heard here: Gato Babrieri, Karl Berger, Aldo Romano and Bo Stief.
Cherry's debut as a leader was Compete Communion, a revelatory record then as now. On paper its key innovation sounds trite: Cherry figured that musicians could channel the extemporaneous energies of free jazz through suites and medleys. In practice, it meant musicians could stretch out without fear of stretching the material thin; the music is action-packed in a new way. And on this live date, recorded in Copenhagen sometime in the year following the Communion sessions, the music is even more exciting; there's the sense that the musicians are as surprised by where things go next as you are (for instance, with a seemingly out-of-the-blue excursion into "A Taste of Honey," of all things).
Saxophonist Barbieri, who had also been part of the Communion sessions, is fiery and abrasive; the whole group is animated and assertive, although Cherry is clearly the trickster leader, keeping all on their toes.
Cherry, as many fans know, continued his Johnny Appleseed thing across Europe and into Africa and Asia, becoming a sort of world music pioneer. That's another story and who knows what tapes of those other adventures await discovery?
W. Kim Heron is the editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].