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‘Tribute to Don Cherry’ (2022 EFG LJF)

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble plus GuestsTribute to Don Cherry

(Barbican. 20 November 2022. Live review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

L to R: Corey Wilkes, Kahil El’ Zabar, Alex Harding, David Ornette Cherry, Dwight Trible. Photo credit Emile Holba/ Serious

Don Cherry was a pioneer. After his work with Ornette Coleman in the late 1950s and 60s, he went on to play with John Coltrane and the New York Contemporary Five as well as recording  two outstanding albums on Blue Note, Symphony For Improvisers and Where Is Brooklyn? in which he developed an approach to extended composition.  He also worked briefly with Albert Ayler before becoming a world traveller with a base in Europe as well as the USA,  and playing a key role in the development of world jazz in his Multikulti and Nu bands.  The latter toured the UK as part of a very successful Contemporary Music Network tour in 1987.

This tribute to Don Cherry on the final night of the London Jazz Festival had two sets, the first a piano duet between Ana Ruz and Naima Karlsson, the latter Don’s granddaughter and Neneh Cherry’s daughter, and the second a collaboration between the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble with very special guests from the Cherry family plus LA vocalist Dwight Trible.

The piano duet in the first set began rather too frenetically with pounding of the pianos, but settled quickly into a nicely interactive set with a contrast between Ruiz’s high energy playing and Karlsson’s more soulful approach.  This captured very effectively the two sides of Don Cherry’s playing.

The second and main set featured the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble led by drummer/percussionist Kahil El’ Zabar with Alex Harding on baritone saxophone and Corey Wilkes on trumpets, including Don Cherry’s own pocket trumpet.  They were joined for the whole set by Don’s son David Ornette Cherry on keys and LA jazz vocalist Dwight Trible.

  Corey Wilkes and Kahil El’Zabar. Photo credit Emile Holba / Serious

The set began with Kahil El’ Zabar on thumb piano followed by Trible chanting Don Cherry’s name repeatedly.  We then moved into a version of Lonely Woman with a mix of song and spoken word from Trible.  This was the pattern for the first part of the set with Trible’s vocals dominant accompanied by riffs from the ensemble, and the occasional solo from the horns and drums.  There was a strong element of spiritual jazz in the overall sound.

In the second part of the set the group was joined by Neneh Cherry and her daughter TYSON for a cameo performance which included a spoken word tribute to Jayne Cortez, who was married to Ornette Coleman, and a powerful song the title of which was not announced.

L-R: Alex Harding, Dwight Trible, Neneh Cherry, TYSON. Photo credit Emile Holba/ Serious

Finally the Ensemble plus Dwight Trible and David Ornette Cherry returned to perform a vocal version of a A Love Supreme.

It was amazing to see the various sons, daughters and granddaughters of Don Cherry together on one stage, and  the concert was very entertaining, clearly going down extremely well with what seemed like a sellout audience,  Yet I was left wanting more, particularly from the sax, trumpet and drums in the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, and found myself wondering whether the music had really captured Don Cherry’s essence as a musician or his importance as an innovator.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There was sad news within hours of this concert. Here is the statement from Serious, reproduced in full:

Statement

We are deeply saddened to share the news that the great multi-instrumentalist and composer David Ornette Cherry passed away in London early Monday morning, mere hours after having performed in a stunning tribute to his father Don Cherry at the Barbican.

“Born the same year that Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry recorded their first album together SOMETHIN ELSE, his future as a consequential musician in his own right was all but guaranteed – performing with his father from the age of sixteen and collaborating with the likes of Charlie Haden, Wadada Leo Smith, and of course Kahil El Zabar.

Our thoughts go out to all the members of the Cherry family as well as Kahil El Zabar, Corey Wilkes, Dwight Trible, and Alex Harding who he was due to continue touring with as part of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. Rest in power David Ornette Cherry.” (Statement ends)

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