Don Cherry ‘Home Boy, Sister Out’ LP/CD (WeWantSounds) 3/5

Enterprising label WeWantSounds have been at the forefront of a number of excellent re-issues of hard to find original vinyl, including the much underrated Mainstream jazz label. For their latest re-issue, the label has selected one of the most eclectic musicians on the planet, trumpeter Don Cherry. Recent re-issues of his leader work from the 1970s coupled with retrospectives of his work as part of the seminal Ornette Coleman group of the 1960s have led to a major renewed interest in Cherry’s work. It is from this perspective that one should view this album, originally issued on the French Barclay label in 1985 and produced by Ramuntcho Matta. For left-field jazz fans who have warmed to the fusion of jazz and world roots in Don Cherry’s music, whether that be the superb early 1970s Swedish album, ‘Organic Music Society’, or the indie release, ‘Relativity Suite’ (1973), in truth, ‘Home Boy, Sister Out’, is, at best, a mitigated success and something of a disappointment to these ears. The album was recorded during a turbulent period in Don Cherry’s life when drug addiction had become a major factor, and the music, though wonderfully eclectic in parts, is distinctly uneven, and certainly not on a par with those outstanding 1970s leader albums, or even the later superb Codona collective albums on ECM. That said, Cherry’s art house offering, which borders on funk, rap, old school soul, and even a somewhat limp attempt at reggae, has something that everyone can appreciate, and, moreover, taps into the prevailing music trends at the time, including the funk-tinged Talking Heads album, ‘Remain In The Light’, Nile Rodgers’ production duties on David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, as well as the early 1980s work of Miles Davis with Marcus Miller. Indeed, the latter influence is closest to what one might term a jazz component on this recording and the instrumental versions of, ‘Rappin’ Recipe’ and ‘Treat Your Lady Right’, fit neatly into that bracket, with sparse sounding bass and crisp percussion. As a whole, the production is tinny in places and 1980s automated hand claps make some numbers sound dated. On the other hand, the rootsier sounds of New Orleans soul comes as an unexpected pleasure on the opener, ‘Call Me’, and equally on ‘Butterfly Friend’. Trust Don Cherry to come up with a surprise or two. If Cherry’s trumpet is only fleetingly heard, the combination of James Brown influenced funk and African percussion on ‘I Walk’ makes up in part and is one of the stronger rhythm-led pieces. Indeed, during the mid-late 1980s, Paris had become the capital of the African music scene, and to a certain extent, that influence is reflected here on the wordless, ‘Bamako Love’ and ‘Benoego’. What does not work are the pity attempts at rap on ‘Alphabet City’, and the mundane lyrics to ‘Reggae To The High Tower’. A rapper of distinction Don Cherry is not and quite why he thought he could with his naturally soft voice is a mystery to this writer. A slightly more convincing attempt at narration is made on ‘Initiation (demon)’, which bears the strong influence of Langston Hughes.

The great pity is that a far worthier candidate for re-evaluation, the 1975 album ‘Don Cherry’ (aka ‘Brown Rice’) on Horizon (an A & M records offshoot for the more avant garde side of jazz), was not re-issued in its place, and it is to be hoped that that recording will see the light of day as a more widely available re-issue. However, do watch out in these columns for a forthcoming WeWantSounds re-issue on Mainstream of a cult jazz guitar album that was sampled by no less than A Tribe Called Quest. Re-issue sleeve notes on this Don Cherry re-issue are by renowned Paris-based Libération music journalist, Jacques Denis, who provides the historical context to the music.

Tim Stenhouse