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Tuesday, April 11, 2006


A & M SP 5258 (1989)

This album was part of a brief, interesting series of records released by A & M in the late eighties titled the "Modern Masters Jazz Series". Its focus was on the avant garde and contained albums by artists with few to no previous major label recordings such as Max Roach, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, and the late, great trumpet legend Don Cherry.

Cherry spent his formative years as part of Ornette Coleman's seminal quartet before striking out on his own with several notable releases for labels such as Blue Note and Actuel. By the eighties, his recordings had become fewer and farther between, so Art Deco was a welcome addition to the Cherry catalogue which received wide distribution thanks to its release on A & M.

For the album, Cherry reunited himself with the rhythm section of bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins, with whom he had played in Ornette's aforementioned quartet. Taking the saxophone chair for this date was Ornette's fellow Texan (and former Ray Charles sideman) James Clay, who had played with the group for a while before they started recording in the fifties. Clay's tenor fits the quartet comfortably; his tone is deeper and more relaxed than Ornette's but shares the same bluesiness and searching quality.

The spirit of Ornette hangs over the recording, whether in the group's readings of his compositions ("When Will the Blues Leave", "The Blessing", "Compute"), the Ornette-ish title tune by Cherry, or even Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing". This is not to say that the quartet simply apes Ornette's sound; rather, it shows how essential these musicians were to what we think of today as "Ornette's sound". While side one is fairly traditional as far as "free jazz" goes (even the formerly outrageous Ornette tunes sound like standards by now), side two is more experimental, with solo outings by Cherry, Haden, and Higgins, a leisurely trio reading of "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face" featuring Clay, and a wild version of Ornette's "Compute".

Cherry made one more album for A & M (the uneven Multikulti) before the label discontinued the series. Like the brief forays into avant garde jazz made by labels such as Arista in the seventies and Verve in the late nineties, the bottom line seemed to be sales, something free jazz never specialized in. Too bad, but at least every time this sort of thing happens, we end up getting great, widely distributed records like Art Deco.


At 9:46 AM, Blogger craig said...

If anything, Cherry got better as he matured and settled down from his fiery beginnings. I haven't heard this, but anything with Cherry, Haden and Higgins must be worth a listen. In fact, Cherry and Haden teamed up with Coleman alumni Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell under the name Old and New Dreams for several albums of updated readings of Coleman material.


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