Do the Tago Mago


Don Cherry
Don Cherry
A&M/Horizon : 1976

DC, trumpet, electric piano, voice; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins, drums; Frank Lowe, tenor sax; Ricky Cherry, electric piano; on Rice only: Bunchie Fox, electric bongos; Verna Gillis, voice.

If this site has a musical lodestar, it’s probably best personified by Don Cherry. Global traveler, fan of the polyglot (the polyglotter the better), sonic experimenter, searcher, classicist, egalitarian, non-snob…. We’ve probably done more posts on Cherry than any other musician to date. There are surprisingly quite a few corners of his discography that remain out of print and unknown to many jazz fans.

One of our very first posts, back in 2006, featured the first track above, “Brown Rice.” Here’s some of what we said at the time:

Chilly Jay Chill: I don’t normally think of Don Cherry when I think of jazz-rock fusion. World music fusion, sure. But this sounds like… Can.

Prof. Drew LeDrew: Really good Can. Like what they always wanted their Ethnic Forgery series to sound like but it never did. In terms of quality, this is right up there with Ege Bamyasi.

CJC: It’s amazing what you can do with a few electric pianos and some voices. And who knew Don could chant like that? Definitely gives Can singer Damo Suzuki a run for his money.

DLD: Hey, don’t forget the electric bongos. That’s clearly the secret ingredient here.

CJC: For those who don’t know, we should point out that Don Cherry made his name playing a small pocket trumpet as part of Ornette Coleman’s first quartet in the 1950s. Wonderful acoustic jazz. Classic stuff.

DLD: He obviously kept developing from there.

CJC: This blows my theory that there was no good fusion after 1975. It’s like he’s absorbed all the jazz-fusion innovations, plus the Indian trance music he loved, and then swallowed a serious dose of Krautrock for good measure. There might even be some disco in there, too. Staggering.

DLD: And it still somehow sounds like him. It’s no gimmick.


Figured it was time for a revisit,  along with a bonus, the last cut on the album. “Degi-Degi” is a sister track to “Brown Rice.” Where the other tunes are slightly more earthbound concoctions of acoustic jazz and Indian drones, these two tracks are both genuine space-rock jams. Play them for your jazz agnostic friends and watch them flip.

This music even won over fusion-hater Stanley Crouch, who contributed the liner notes. He gives kudos to the album’s stellar line-up, and presciently hones in on Cherry’s technique – “a poignant trumpet tone that moves from impassioned and burred yelps of scalar melodies, with a whispering, chanting, and shouting singing style, and a sense of international non-European music made into one force by improvisation.” Got that? Crouch dubs this “music of perpetual transformation.” To which we say: Dig.

Noted: You can buy a digital copy of this album — reissued under the title Brown Rice and no longer featuring a vista of the Watts Towers — via Amazon.

Cherry, trees.

Discussion6 Comments Category Don Cherry Tags , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses to Do the Tago Mago

  1. When were the liners written? Remember, Crouch tried to hack it as a drummer in the ’70s loft scene before making the turn toward arch-conservatism. That’s one of the reasons he’s so annoying – his conversion to the Marsalis line comes off as pure careerist fakery. He saw that there was a niche for a reactionary jazz critic and jumped at the chance.

  2. The Choose Your Own Adventure mock-up is priceless. Great record too.

  3. Bought this record when it first came out, and have always loved it.
    Never realized those were the Watts Towers until I moved out west, though.

  4. Isn’t it fine! I was so pleased to find this on iTunes for $5 after hearing it was good but that copies of the LP were going for quite a packet. Thanks for this and the other Cherryco flow (the hippie bus record and all that, if I recall, was introduced to me through your efforts). Cheers!

  5. Cherry’s one of these cats I checked out when I first started to REALLY get into jazz, not least because of his Coleman connection, but never quite got to delve into his discography. Sure there were The Blue Notes of the mid-60s, plus Multi-Kulti from the 80s, but I never really got beyond those. Remember listening to this in a record store a long time ago, and it had the gawd awful new cover (photo with a white A&M border – looked destined for the bargain bin), but don’t remember it being this, well, Can-ish. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. That book cover rules. Krautrock + world + Ornette = win!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>