THE QUEEN OF TUNG-TING LAKE
Don Cherry and the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra
JCOA : 1973
DC, conductor, trumpet, conch, voice, percussion; Charles Brackeen, soprano and alto sax, voice; Carlos Ward, alto sax, voice; Frank Lowe, tenor sax, voice; Dewey Redman, tenor sax, voice; Sharon Freeman, french horn; Brian Trentham, trombone; Jack Jeffers, tuba; Leroy Jenkins, violin; Joan Katlisch, viola; Nan Newton, viola; Pat Dixon, cello; Jane Robertson, cello; Charlie Haden, bass; Carla Bley, piano; Moki Cherry, tamboura; Selene Fung, ching; Paul Motion, percussion; Ed Blackwell, drums.
The original cover for this album features a riotous patchwork quilt. It’s no accident: the material is woven together from many different musical strands. Bursting with tonal colors, one can pick out flecks of free jazz, Indian drones, Chinese ballads, orchestral grandeur, primal chants.
Though not Cherry’s first foray into mixing jazz and various musics from around the world, in many ways it’s his finest effort in this direction – a carefully textured composition expertly executed by the all-star cast of the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. The record is a genuine suite. While it’s become de rigeur for many artists to claim that the disparate parts of their work cohere into a greater whole, in this case it’s absolutely true. Please keep in mind that the tracks we’ve selected here provide just a taste; they’re fragments that only hint at the greater unity of the work.
“Tantra” begins with Cherry chanting, followed by a very subdued Eastern drone for several minutes; then the piano kicks in and the orchestra churns up an Indo-Jazz groove. Frank Lowe’s screaming sax solo shouldn’t work in this context, but does. The sparse “Queen” gives an idea of the wide tonal range of the album. There’s a spare but affecting ching solo, brought home by Cherry’s brief but typically stunning trumpet accompaniment. Carla Bley provides the tart and rolling piano solo in “Gentleness,” which is set against a whirlwind of strings. The track as a whole is not completely different from the work Alice Coltrane was doing at the time, except here it’s compressed into three and a half minutes. We smell a single!
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New Yorkers or those in the vicinity can undergo a facsimile of the Don Cherry Experience this Saturday night at the Jazz Standard, as Steven Bernstein’s Millenial Territory Orchestra is slated to perform Relativity Suite. It’ll be fascinating to hear how the group tackles this majestically eccentric music. Are they bringing a chin player? Who’s going to do the chanting and vocalizing? Will there be tamoura and conch solos?
The concert is part of the fourth annual Festival of New Trumpet Music, happening right NOW. Last weekend, festival founders Dave Douglas and Roy Campbell recreated Cherry’s 1960s Blue Note masterpiece, Symphony For Improvisers, at Merkin Hall.
If anyone attended the Douglas show or makes the show this weekend, feel free to post your reports, thoughts, etc. in the comments.
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A tip for those who can’t make the show and/or would like to hear the original album in full flower: Be sure to visit the estimable Downtown Music Gallery, where used copies of this out-of-print gem turn up with surprising regularity. Seriously: Check their online list of rare and used goodies and you might just get lucky. (It’s suite when it happens….)