Symphony for Improvisers

roy_campbellA Living Tribute to Don Cherry: Dave Douglas and Roy Campbell Perform Symphony for Improvisers
Merkin Hall, Saturday Sept. 16, 2006
Special event presented by the Font Festival

Played to a full house, this concert, dedicated to the late great Don Cherry, showcased his compositions as well as tunes dedicated to him.

Two quartets lead respectively by Dave Douglas & Roy Campbell (co-founders of the festival) occupied the first half of the program. Douglas’s group, up first, included J.D. Allen on sax, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and bassist Henry Grimes. Their set consisted of about four Cherry tunes played evenly and well, ending with the Cherry original "Elephantasy."

Campbell's group was a stellar cast of characters: saxophonist Mixashawn Lee Rozie, drummer Hamid Drake, and bassist William Parker. Its set consisted of two extended pieces: Cherry’s “Song for Che” and a Campbell original from his Pyramid Trio album Communion (Silkheart), “Chant for Don Cherry.”

Of the two quartets, I preferred Campbell's for greater spirit and originality overall.
but both proved to be crowd-pleasers.

After a ten-minute intermission, the combined ensembles played the complete version of Cherry's post-Free Jazz masterpiece Symphony for Improvisers. Cherry's recording originally employed a septet of himself, Grimes, Gato Barbieri, Pharoah Sanders, Karl Berger, Jean-Francois Jenny Clark, and Ed Blackwell. What is interesting to note concerning this night’s performance is that, as on the Ornette Coleman classic, a double quartet was employed that dealt with collective improvisations, solos, and combined efforts when returning to the head(s). This was an intriguing octet that sometimes split back into its original quartets, with Cherry's music and open improv being the common denominators.

We heard Campbell's heat/warmth against Douglas's cooler/brighter edge in a splintering duet section, the dynamics and techiques of Cyrille (cymbal bending, floor beating) pitted against the eternal rhythms of Drake, steadfast Grimes against the controlled wanderlust of Parker (both alternating between bowing and strumming in their magicical face-off), and Rozie's scorching Trane-isms against Allen's calmer approach. There were contrasts but no clashes. A piece played fully for both its content and nuances ending with a standing ovation by the stalwart enthusiasts in the audience.

Compared to the tamer confines of Wynton's palace up the street, where a few days earlier Trane was given tribute, this was a whirlwind of originality and courage. – Steve Dalachinsky

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Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Dalachinsky is a writer, poet, and jazz expert. He's released numerous collections of his poetry, the latest being The Final Nite & Other Poems: Complete Notes from a Charles Gayle Notebook 1987-2006 (Ugly Duckling Presse). And he's had three albums released, most recently a collaboration with Matthew Shipp Phenomena of Interference (Hopscotch).

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