Sad Am I, Glad Am I

From the ESP-Disk’ label this month, we have Don Cherry from 1966 with Live at Cafe Montmartre (ESP 4051). It’s the third volume from the Cafe Montmartre recordings, a venue which despite its Parisian name was actually located in Copenhagen. Cherry’s pan-international group during this residency included the Argentinian tenorman Gato Barbieri and the excellent German percussionist Karl Berger on vibes, and here the players recreate to some extent the finest moments of the Complete Communion LP recorded for the Blue Note label around the same time. If you’ve ever found some of the wilder 1969 forays of the free jazz genre (as represented on the BYG label for example) a bit too excessive, Cherry’s semi-composed music from this period should appeal mightily, as he uses his pocket trumpet in solid alignment with the vibraphone to pin down the melodic statements, allowing Gato space to blow wild as he might. The music pulls in exciting five-way cross-directional energies that Ornette himself woulda loved. In my book Cherry should’ve been as highly regarded as Ornette, Trane, or Miles, and even on radio broadcasts like this one his compositional and improvisational talents really shine forth.

With Sounds of the Ghetto Youth (ESP 1067), originally released in 1967 by the HAR-YOU Percussion Group led by Roger “Montego Joe” Sanders, I find myself totally out of my depth with an example of Afro-Cuban and Latin music, musical genres I know nothing about. Montego Joe found himself drawn into a teaching programme in Harlem following the 1964 riots in that area, in an attempt to re-channel the energies of young men into making music. The director of said programme, Leonard Parker, approached ESP’s Bernard Stollman with the idea of making a record with these teenaged players, and the record you now hold in your hands (issued as ORO 5) is the result. The ultra-syncopated rhythms here are undeniably exciting, aided immeasurably by the expert piano work of Nick Kirksey (who wrote two of the compositions), yet I find there’s still a certain hesitancy and amateurishness in the collective playing that somehow prevents the LP catching fire as much as it should.

Rejuvenation (ESP 4052) is a contemporary recording by Flow Trio, an underground NYC jazz combo featuring Louie Belogenis on tenor with Joe Morris on bass and Charles Downs on drums. Everything was recorded in Brooklyn in October last year, yet if you close your eyes you could almost be hearing Albert Ayler in 1964 at his most despondent and opaque; Belogenis has almost the exact same quaver in his tone as Ayler used to depict the many ghosts, witches and spirits that floated around his troubled world. This isn’t too surprising a result from this former member of Prima Materia, the Ayler / Coltrane tribute band that also featured Rashied Ali, William Parker, and others; indeed Belogenis is a veteran of the NYC downtown scene since the 1980s, sometimes associated with John Zorn. One of the more enjoyable ESP contemporary releases, only let down by its utterly indifferent sleeve art.

Lastly here is a CD reissue of Patty Waters Sings (ESP 1025), her late 1965 LP on which she sings and plays piano for side one, then wails along with Burton Greene’s piano work on side two with a lively rhythm section. This LP has enjoyed something of a reputation as the ne plus ultra of “out” vocal music for over ten years now, due entirely to the free-form singing she deploys on side two’s ‘Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair’, her insane jazzy extemporising on an Irish folk song which was also recorded by Nina Simone. Yet side one is totally different; a collection of slightly hesitant and smoky torchy ballads, composed and performed by Waters in a kind of modernistic abstracted update on the singing of Billie Holiday and almost setting the template for Annette Peacock (and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Paprika Plains’, if you listen hard enough). Worth re-exploring the songs on side one, which have a certain intimacy and introspective charm which you won’t find on the more well-known and freakier B-side. ‘Black is the Colour…’ still has the power to disorient and even shock the listener, even if it’s less than 14 minutes long and she doesn’t even start flipping out for the first five minutes. Greene’s work on the piano, and the eerie-sounding piano harp, propels her into this inward-looking journey where the single word ‘black’ is imbued with more meaning in the context of doomed human relationships than you would’ve thought possible. The rich imagery of the original folk theme is pretty much reduced to a single word, and Waters simply harrows it to death with her haunted voice and obsessive repetitions.

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