The late trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry had not only a singular talent for playing (a unique cry, a most human tone), but Dame Destiny has seen fit to pair him with some of jazz’s most crucial saxophonists. Cherry has shared stages & studios with Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Sonny Rollins and Steve Lacy, and even with select cutting-edge rock guitarists, namely Lou Reed (who acknowledges Coleman as a major influence) and Steve Hillage. Sometimes this aspect of his lengthy career overshadows his classic albums as a leader. An early classic of his has been rescued, revived and refurbished, the mid-1960s Blue Note session Symphony For Improvisers.
At the time, Cherry had an American quartet (Sanders, Grimes, Blackwell) and a European quintet (Barbieri, Berger, Jenny-Clark, Aldo Romano). Symphony unifies both bands (although Romano couldn’t make the session), albeit in a somewhat more "orderly," somewhat less frenetic fashion than Coleman’s groundbreaking Free Jazz album. There’s plenty of ebb and flow with sections of stormy, harrowing, cathartic sax-skronk are followed by pert, almost sing-song-y lyricism. Turbulent rhythms give way to oddly loose-limbed swing and echoes of old New Orleans (Yaweh bless Ed Blackwell). One thing that’s always distinguished Cherry’s brand of free/"out" jazz in the 60s is while most of his contemporaries were consumed/driven by fury (and sometimes ethnocentrism), Cherry’s music expressed joy, wonder, inclusiveness and high spirits. While certainly not an "easy" listen (for neophytes, anyway), this Symphony certainly has enough gregariousness, wit and warmth to make it a near-ideal starting point. Fans, especially those what dig Cherry’s "jazz" side over his "global/folk" side, will have to have it.