The Free Jazz Don Cherry Blue Note Albums

Free Jazz with lots of colors

Trumpeter Don Cherry is best known for his side man roll in the Ornette Coleman Quartet. Don contributed to some of the most groundbreaking and controversial albums in the history of recorded music, Free Jazz, The Shape of Jazz to Come, and Change of the Century to name a few.

Don also Produced a live album Called Eternal Rhythm that is highly sought after and extremely free and out there. Brown Rice from the mid 70's shows a calmer Don Cherry with an irresistible world music vibe.

The topic here is Blue Note Records, and the 3 albums Don put together for the label between 1965 and 1967. Complete Communion, Symphony for improvisers, and the underrated Where is Brooklyn are featured..

The music on Don's 3 Blue Note Albums is certainly challenging, and them some. This music, much like Ornette's music, has plenty of melody, and does not sound angry like Peter Brotzmann's Machine Gun for instance, an album from 1968.

Though Gato Barbieri, on Communion, and Pharoah Sanders on improvisers, and Brooklyn do remind you it's the 60's, and a lot of people were extremely angry at the world, and not afraid to express it for various reasons, this anger comes out in the volatile music, but Cherry's music also leaves room for hope for a better day.

Overall I feel the music does not have an ominous vibe like Coltrane's music always had in his later period, there is nothing wrong with that at all of course, but I do want to illustrate the difference I hear?

I think these Blue Note albums touched on below would be a good place to start with free jazz, If you don't acquire the taste, I don't think you will ever have hope for any thing like Coltrane's later period music.

Complete Communion:

Complete Communion was Don Cherry's first session for Blue Note, recorded in 1965, and features Tenor Saxophonist Gato Barbieri, who's tenor tone suits the music to a tee.

A pair of side long suites, Complete Communion / And Now / Golden Heart / Remembrance" - 20:38 and Elephantasy / Our Feelings / Bishmallah / Wind, Sand, and Stars" - 19:36- Both of these Compositions are wide open structures, with each suite divided into multi-sound collages.

Cherry's Trumpet work has always been underrated in my mind, he does have a unique sound, a light jovial style, that is the perfect foil for angry toned tenors, Like Barbieri or Sanders this time out, I think that cherry played the "pocket trumpet" hindered him being taken as seriously as other musicians of his time, a real pity.

Symphony For improvisers:

Symphony For improvisers Was Don Cherry's second for the Blue Note label, released in 1966. This time a septet, instead of the quartet of Complete Communion, Barbieri is back, and tenor man Pharoah Sanders comes into the fold, he adds colors with his piccolo, Karl Berger adds Vibraphone to the mix, it adds a nice contrast to the Sanders tenor growls.

There is more subtlety in the compositions, the extra instruments for me really add to the dramatic effect. This is quite simply one of the best "Composed" Free jazz albums I have heard. I have always felt the best free jazz is the variety that isn't totally free, the soloists are free in a sense, but structures are given, and musicians are at least pointed in a direction.

Where is Brooklyn:

Where is Brooklyn, The last album Don Cherry made for Blue Note was released in 1967, and does not fail to impress. "Brooklyn" doesn't seem to get the respect it deserves.

This time we go back to the quartet format, with Pharoah Sanders filling the Barbieri Role. 'Unite" is the lone long composition clocking in at over 17 minutes, the other tunes range from , just under 5 minutes, to just under 7 minutes.

An interesting track "The Thing" (included below)  I believe appeared as theme music for the cartoon/comic book hero from the Fantastic Four of the same name during an animated series that ran in the late 1960's.

For those of you who are vinyl collectors, you can still find decent prices on Don's Blue Note records. I picked up 3 mid 70's reissues for under 25 dollars a piece several years ago.

Original pressings will set you back a few hundred dollars each though, It seems that the sky may be the limit for the rising prices on mint Blue Note vinyl.

It probably won't be long before these later reissue will be priced beyond the common man's pocket-book.

*Photo is my own*

The First 5 Andrew Hill Blue Note Records to Get

One of the first jazz artists I became infatuated with outside the Miles Davis John Coltrane realm was Chicago native Andrew Hill.

A pianist whom to my ears was heavily influenced by Thelonius Monk, but with a modern bent toward Bud Powell. Hill was born in 1931, and passed away in 2007.

Like most of the jazz artists who made their bones in the avant-garde jazz world, Hill too has been grossly overlooked outside of the genre.

Every Blue Note record he ever recorded is worth owning, and honestly I think all of his albums are well worth hearing.

Below are the 5 records I think are the most indispensable in his Blue Note discography.

Passing Ships

Passing Ships from 1969 and not released until 2003 just might be the best album he ever did for Blue Note. The album features an octet that switches out Woody Shaw and Dizzy Reese on an equal number of the 6 tracks.

Howard Johnson plays bass clarinet or tuba throughout and adds quite a bit of depth to the sound. The real star here though is the underrated Joe Farrell. 

Farrell plays alto, tenor, and soprano sax, as well as bass clarinet, alto flute, and English horn. Hard to believe this music was not released when it was recorded. It's easily one of my top 20 CD's of any genre. This CD has great Michael Cusuna liner notes on how the session was unearthed and brought to release.

Lenny White also appears in the drum chair, and it was only the second recording he ever appeared on. 

Point of Departure

Point of Departure is more famous for multi instrumentalist Eric Dolphy than anything else. Though with Tony Williams on Drums, and Kenny Dorham on trumpet, you know it's going to be a wild ride. 

Dorham and Dolphy together seems like something that had the potential for disaster, yet the music while clearly free bop, works very well and remains one of the best of its kind ever recorded.

Joe Henderson on tenor sax, seems to be the glue that holds Dorham and Dolphy together. Henderson sounds great no matter the setting, whether freer styles or even funky commercial styles. Did Henderson ever mail in a performance?

When you listen to this music, keep in mind that drummer Williams was just 18 years old! For my money the late Williams was the best jazz drummer who ever lived in terms of breaking new ground, as he did here and with the Miles Davis mid-60's quintet.

Lift Every Voice

This 2001 CD release of Lift Every Voice adds 6 bonus tracks from 1970 to the the original 1969 recording of the Hill Quintet augmented with voices, that are conducted by Lawrence Marshall. 

This is an unusual recording, one I did not expect to like. However it has become a dark horse of my collection with many hours either on the turntable or the CD player.

The standout other than pianist Hill, and the in unison singing vocals of course, is the the vastly underrated Woody Shaw on trumpet, who might be the last truly great innovator of the instrument.

Dance With Death

Dance with Death features the track "Yellow Violet" that has become my favorite Hill composition. A haunting theme played by Joe Farrell and Charles Tolliver on trumpet, just spectacular. 

This is just one of those tunes that gets me, not unlike say Miles Davis' opening sounds on the Kind of Blue track "Blue in Green" . "Yellow Violet" is an upbeat tune, and not a down tempo tune, but somehow evokes a similar mood for me.

The rest of the album is nearly as good with Farrell and Tolliver matching each other throughout. Dance With Death is another one of those albums (1980) not released when it was recorded (1968).

The CD release is well worth having, with once again stellar liner notes.


Judgement is a 1964 quartet album that features Bobby Hutcherson on Vibes, and boy does it work well to show off both Hill and Hitcherson's talents.

Of the 5 albums chosen here, Judgement is the one that took the most effort for me to appreciate. I do miss a horn when it's not present. This is one of those cases though where Hill's compositions shine brightly and Hutcherson's hauntingly good vibes fill the horn void. 

After Judgement I began to search out more quartet records like this that feature the vibes and piano as the focal point.

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