Somewhere along the way "world music" became a suspect term. Mixed up with the concept of "new age," it makes you think more about hemp clothing, crystal therapy and holistic healing than the sort of basic elemental sounds trumpeter Don Cherry pioneered in tandem with drummer Ed Blackwell on the classic Mu sessions (BYG-Actuel, 1969). ECM Records carries its own perceptual baggage, forever associated with a type of cerebral European jazz thanks to the diamond-hard austerity of the atmospherics the recordings favor.
Conceived as a pure, leaderless trio with three utterly original multi-instrumentalists acting and reacting to one another, it was Collin Wolcott who was CODONA's prime organizing (if not its main musical) force. A master of Indian traditions, when Wolcott's sitar isn't the lead instrument on these tracks, his tabla or thumb piano propels the rhythms before Brazil's Nana Vasconcelos accents the improvisations with his barking cuica, talking drum or other exotic percussion. These tracks are groovy or ethereal or sometimes ephemeral, but the music really grabs hold when Cherry slices through the mood with his clarion trumpet calls, tethers the musicians to the ground with the single string of his doussn'gouni, helps the tunes take flight with his collection of wooden flutes or turns the air eerie and portentous by breathing into a melodica. Walcott and Vasconcelos are fine players, but more often than not these tracks succeed or fail based on the degree of Cherry's involvement and the quantity of charisma he brings to any performance.
One would think that Cherry, his "world music" bona fides beyond reproach, would have had his work with CODONA released to critical acclaim. But Steve Lake's liner notes in the booklet to ECM's elegantly packaged and bargain priced The CODONA Trilogy boxed set quotes the esteemed Francis Davis as calling their music "wishful" and "self-deluded." He criticized CODONA for "short-changing" themselves and their audience, implying that the music was insubstantial and disingenuous. Harsh words for a legend (and his compatriots), but it was this sort of reception that kept CODONA on the fringes and makes the group highly deserving of the reconsideration this set affords.
CODONA 1, 2 and 3 (released in 1979, 1981 and 1983, respectively) are reissued in this package as they were originally configured, preserving their LP lengths without any special remastering or additional tracks and each of them offers the group as they were in those particular years, dedicated to spontaneity, flow, interplay, the individual characters of acoustic instruments and above all, silence and the role it serves as the place from where all sound comes and ultimately goes.
Cherry sings the blues over sitar and snare drum on "Clicky Clacky," throwing in a child's train whistle and kazoo for good measure. "Colemanwonder" marries two Ornette compositions with Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" in the span of only a few minutes, while the lead cut, "Like That of Sky," uses vocal overdubs to contrast with the instruments and multi-tracking to enable Cherry to play trumpet and melodica simultaneously on "Malinye" and Vasconcelos to play cuica and berimbau on "Que Faser."
The box concludes with "Inner Organs," ten haunting minutes of Cherry's organ chords that at first blush seems repetitive and off-putting but gradually draws you in and stays with you after the CD stops spinning. Whether Brian Eno and his acolytes or any other sound architects listened to CODONA is uncertain, but Cherry's influence on a generation of worldly jazz musicians is well established. His musical journey is honored by the duo of William Parker and Hamid Drake, Drake's collaborations with percussionist Adam Rudolph, the ethnic explorations of musicologist Bill Coleman, the collaboration of Cherry's band mate Billy Higgins and saxophonist Charles Lloyd on another ECM release, Which Way Is East (2004), and the fusion of the Pat Metheny Group, among others. CODONA's music was conceived as being at home in a concert hall or place of worship as on the street corner or the top of the mountain. The CODONA Trilogy makes the case that your CD player should be added to that list.
Tracks: CD1 (CODONA): Like That Of Sky; Codona; Colemanwonder; Mumakata; New Light. CD2 (CODONA 2): Que Faser; Godumaduma; Malinye; Drip-Dry; Walking On Eggs; Again And Again, Again. CD3 (CODONA 3): Goshakabuchi; Hey Da Ba Doom; Travel By Night; Lullaby; Trayra Boia; Clicky Clacky; Inner Organs.
Track Listing: CD1 (CODONA): Like That Of Sky; Codona; Colemanwonder; Mumakata; New Light. CD2 (CODONA 2): Que Faser; Godumaduma; Malinye; Drip-Dry; Walking On Eggs; Again And Again, Again. CD3 (CODONA 3): Goshakabuchi; Hey Da Ba Doom; Travel By Night; Lullaby; Trayra Boia; Clicky Clacky; Inner Organs.