Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Avant-Garde

John Coltrane/Don Cherry: The Avant-Garde. Posted by Hello

Pressing on with Black History Month and the ongoing celebration of great recordings of African-American music at HurdAudio I've applied ears to The Avant-Garde by John Coltrane and Don Cherry this evening.

It's 1960 and there's Don Cherry panned all the way in my right ear and John Coltrane panned all the way in my left ear. This is an intriguing record. I love these compositions and this performance is spirited. It seems conspicuous to have Ornette Coleman absent from this recording. Most of these compositions are his. It is practically the legendary Ornette Coleman Quartet of this era with John Coltrane sitting for the band leader. The change in chemistry is enormous. The alternate takes on these tunes are incredibly revealing.

This disc opens with a great Don Cherry composition, "Cherryco." The band really clicks on this one and Cherry turns in some nice solo work. The next three tunes are all Coleman compositions from this incredibly fertile era for his creative output. This take of "Focus On Sanity" is a little timid for my taste. But "The Blessing" really works. After a tasty opening sequence the band settles into an easy groove that really allows Cherry to soar through some nice solo material. Coltrane then follows with a solo that builds from a slow, "conversational" tone that builds toward his characteristic series of harmonic runs. "The Invisible" features a good balance between all the players (with Percy Heath taking over on Bass from Charlie Haden). Though the improvisations are painfully brief on "The Invisible" after such a promising start. The disc closes out with the Thelonious Monk tune "Bemsha Swing." At this point the harmelodic force of Coleman seems to fade and an early Coltrane sound begins to emerge.

The Avant-Garde is like an appendix to the Beauty is a Rare Thing box set of Coleman's Atlantic sessions from the late 1950's and early 1960's. It's valuable to hear how a master of Coltrane's calibur interpreted this material back in its "revolutionary" heyday. It's a tantalizing glimpse in it brevity of one master improviser taking a turn at filling the shoes of another.

Though I keep reaching for this disc for a dose of that opening track. With "Cherryco" one can start to hear the beginings of the potent creative force of Don Cherry's muse starting to emerge.

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