Cacophonic, the Finders Keepers sub-imprint dedicated to slightly more avant-garde efforts, recently announced the release of a previously unissued soundtrack by Don Cherry entitled Music, Wisdom, Love. Being a huge fan of Cherry’s work, but not recognizing the title, I made a point to check it out. There’s been a flurry of archival releases dedicated to Cherry in recent years – Live In Stockholm, Modern Art, Live In Paris April 22 1971, Live Köln 1975 (With Terry Riley). With the frustrating exception of Live In Ankara, I have every LP he released between 1966 and 1982. The emergence of recordings from that period is always welcome – particularly from an artist so dear to my heart.
Don Cherry – Music, Wisdom, Love 1969 (2017)
Music, Wisdom, Love sounded familiar, but took a moment to place. The label’s press release surrounds the recordings in a cloud of ambiguity – leaving the reader with few solid facts. It was recorded by Cherry for a film which finds him as its muse and bears his name – made in Paris during 1967 by Jean-Noël Delamare, Nathalie Perrey, and Philippe Gras, but not released until 1973. I have no idea where the date 1969 on the Cacophonic LP is drawn from. The film is largely comprised of passages of Cherry poking around, goofing, and playing music in the woods with an uncredited musician. Truthfully, neither the film nor the soundtrack are particularly interesting, beyond being windows into another time or Cherry’s temperament. They’re nice artifacts, but not great works of art.
Don Cherry was a stone cold genius – literally, and every figurative way that the designation can be applied. The quality of his work was astounding – both as an improvisor and a composer. There are few names which command such respect and loyalty on my part. That said, his discography isn’t perfect. He had a great run, but there are records which fail to reach the heights of his larger body of work – that awkward effort with Jon Appleton called Human Music, Hear & Now, and Brown Rice being prime examples. Though I evaluate Don Cherry, as a collaborative effort / film, as being more interesting than the aforementioned three – or other similarly spotty works that appear in his later discography, viewed separately or together, both the film and its soundtrack leave much to be desired. Cherry’s score does give you the impression that he was responding directly to a print. Perhaps he gave what he got – a self-conscious attempt at the avant-garde – silly, ambivalent, and abstract for the sake of it, rather than a focused attempt toward a specific end.
It’s worth remembering that a number of Cherry’s peers were recruited for soundtrack work, and that many of those efforts were released as LPs during roughly the same period – Albert Ayler’s New York Eye and Ear Control (on which Cherry also appears) began as the soundtrack of a Michael Snow film of the same name, Art Ensemble Of Chicago’s score for Les Stances à Sophie, Ornette Coleman’s soundtrack for Who’s Crazy?. It seems fair to presume, had Cherry wanted his soundtrack to be heard as a freestanding work, he would have allowed it to happen during his lifetime.
With no offense intended toward Cacophonic or the work they have put in, Music, Wisdom, Love smacks of the reissue market scrapping the bottom of the barrel – working on name recognition or nice hook, rather that the quality of work. Though it’s hard to tell if they’ve gotten their hands on further recordings from the sessions, judging from what is known, even for a Cherry completest like myself, this is one I’d likely skip. The soundtrack works fine within the film, which is worth watching, but I would have left well enough alone – allowing it to remain as it was intended to be encountered. Have a watch and judge for yourself.
Note: I’ve edited this since posting. The film credits cite Anthony Braxton as reading the poem that runs across its beginning. Phong Tran tipped me to the fact that when Ubu originally posted the film a while back, Braxton got in touch with them to clarify that it was not his voice. The poem is also widely credited to Andre Breton, but within the thread that is also contested – placing the authorship with Cherry.
Jean-Noël Delamare, Nathalie Perrey, and Philippe Gras – Don Cherry (1973)