DON CHERRY — Complete Communion (review)

DON CHERRY — Complete Communion album cover Album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
Recorded in 1966, “Complete Communion” was Don Cherry’s first album as sole leader. Having already spent time as co-leader with the likes of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins, Cherry was more than ripe for his turn to lead things. On board with him is Gato Barbieri, who had met Don in Rome and was interested in trying out this ‘new thing’ called free jazz. Rounding out the band is Henry Grimes on bass and Edward Blackwell on drums. Right off the bat this album bears a strong resemblance to Cherry’s early 60s work with Ornette, which is no big surprise since Blackwell is on drums. Eddie’s drumming with Ornette and Don had helped define the group since he joined them in 1960, and likewise his unique skills also help define this outing giving it some Ornette quartet similarity. Yes, there are those similarities in basic style, but “Complete Communion” is hardly a facsimile as both Cherry and Gato spin their unique take on what can happen within this 60s free bop framework.

The whole album was recorded in one take with every tune butted up against each other without break. In fact its not often exactly clear where one song starts and the other ends, which is a good thing. This one take approach makes for a very imaginative arrangement and it is one of this album’s big pluses. The various tunes that come and go owe a large debt to the work of Bird and Diz, which is also a very good thing. Once the players dig into their solos, they often have a four way conversation going, but also there are times where any one of the performers might step to the forefront, particularly Don and Gato. While Cherry is mostly melodic on here, Gato often goes for an Archie Shepp style barrage of notes and above the normal range high pitched excursions. Despite how well he handles all of this, Gato did not stay in the avant-garde scene for long, which is another feature that makes this album unique.

This is an excellent album that, much like what Miles was playing live at this time, rides that border between free jazz and really out there post bop. Fans of Don’s early work with Ornette will dig hearing another possibility of where that music could end up. It also helps that the recording quality on ‘Communion’ is very good. Some are critical of this album claiming that Cherry will find his true voice as a leader when he starts working with African and Asian influences, but taken on its own merit, this album is one far out be-bop trip.
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