F. Vattel Cherry, |
Is It Because I'm Black?
(Commercial Free Jazz, 1999)
F. Vattel Cherry has a big, swaggering style which would fit right in with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, should Malachi Favours ever have an off-day. He seems to enjoy a funky way with rhythm which can often ramble in odd directions, like a pub anecdote. Here, he's captured in a solo set playing a mixture of spirituals and his own compositions.
The recording is extremely "intimate," which is nice in a rough and ready way, although the first track is marred by some massively distorted bottom notes. But what other way is there to capture a player like this, who seems to have various bells attached to his limbs whilst playing and who clearly enjoys a down-home flavour?
Whether that flavour was intentional or just the result of using cheap equipment is hardly important: there's a semiotic effect which would totally spoil a classical recital (supposed to be pure and perfect) but which lends this set of bluesy tunes a slightly spurious "authenticity." Not that any of this is done in bad faith, but it's a part of the package, a performance which propels one into some late '60s loft session and a world of dodgy tape recorders and dodgier protest poetry. That's a Romantic notion -- we live in a different world now and although, yes, there are still racists about, jam sessions never really did solve that particular problem -- but there's nothing intrinsically wrong with it.
Whether you enjoy this record really depends on how much you enjoy that notion. The bells chink on Cherry's arms out of synch with his bass (of course they do) -- irritating or charming? Intended or not? One can't be sure about the latter, but the effect is rather jarring at times. At others, it sounds as if Cherry's whole body is bouncing up and down and the beat, a kind of flowing relay between bells and bass, becomes so irresistable one is tempted to jump up and dance.
This is a mixed session. Cherry really can't sing, and shouldn't -- the mercifully brief "Oh, Freedom" can set off howling dogs -- but he can play the bass with a thumping verve and energy which few players have any more.
It's so much more common for free jazz bassists to concentrate on playing arco or otherwise working out timbral extensions that this kind of forcefully jazz- and blues-based playing has fallen into disfavour. Given better production values and perhaps an understanding duo partner (best of all, a singer), this would have been a really fine record. As it is, it's a calling card which promises much for the future.
[ by Richard Cochrane ]