Breiwick brings to light several hidden gems from the diverse songbook of Don Cherry on his anticipated follow up to the 2019 tribute with an expanded ensemble.
Trumpeter, composer, bandleader, educator and renowned designer Jamie Breiwick will release his new album, Awake: Volume 2 – The Music of Don Cherry on June 2, 2023 on Shifting Paradigm Records. It follows the first volume, Awake, released in 2019, which UK Vibe said, “It’s this unquenchable desire to continually try new things that Breiwick perhaps best identifies with when considering Don Cherry as a subject for such a touching tribute – that and of course the unquestionable quality of Cherry’s music.” Awake: Volume 2 presents an expansion of the first edition, adding two stellar saxophonists, Lenard Simpson III and Chris Weller, to the original trio of Breiwick, bassist Tim Ipsen, and drummer Devin Drobka.
Awake: Volume 2 marks Breiwick’s 15th album as a leader/co-leader and continues to push his path forward, honoring his musical heroes while sculpting his own musical voice. The “Awake” series is a means for Breiwick to bring to light some of the lesser known compositions of the idiosyncratic artist. What sets Cherry’s style apart from the herd was how he so uniquely and freely incorporated such diverse elements of folk music, pop, funk, and various ethnic musics into his playing and compositions. He was particularly influenced by the music of Africa, the Middle East, and India, and he drew on these traditions to create a new hybrid that was both experimental and highly accessible – while at the same time, largely underrepresented in the jazz lexicon.
Says Breiwick, “Don Cherry went in so many different directions that it’s really hard to put him in a box. He had deeply studied the music of Thelonious Monk, Fats Navarro, Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown, but also, African music, Reggae, European folk music…he even rapped on a track on his last record, “Sweet Potato Salad” (from Home Boy, Sister Out). I love the entire message of his music, but also who he is as a musician – not really caring about style, genre, or boundaries. Cherry also incorporated samples of spoken word recordings, things people are doing now, but this was 25-30 years ago. His music is not driven by ego. My favorite quote of his is, “When people believe in boundaries, they become part of them.” I like that idea of breaking down boundaries and want to strive for that as well.”
The opening track, “Benoego,” sounds like something J Dilla would’ve made. Deep funk. On the original recording, Cherry is simply breathing through his trumpet for two or three solid minutes over a beat – playing sounds and textures rather than the stereotypical jazz head-solo-head format, potentially creating something much deeper, and the Awake band captures this idea in its own way. “Bird Boy” is a deep groove featuring Breiwick’s breathy and agile harmon-mute accompanied by the ostinato laid out by Weller’s deep and rich tenor sound.
“Ganesh,” which is the Hindu god of obstacles (or removing them), is a fitting homage to this boundary-less mantra. Simpson, a rising star alto saxophonist from Chicago, delivers a euphoric solo over the double-time second section of the piece. “Interlude with Puppets” features bassist Ipsen on the Japanese Koto over an ambient trance-like repeated figure – again, honoring Cherry’s worldliness.
“March of the Hobbits” from Cherry’s 1973 recording Relativity Suite is a wild, circus-like romp, featuring Drobka’s marching drum improvisations. This piece, more than any, exemplifies what Breiwick considers to be Cherry’s most important traits, joy and optimism, while also remembering not to take oneself too seriously. The album closes with the Ornette Coleman-penned gem, “Monsieur Allard,” from the Coleman record “Sound Museum”. Breiwick first heard this on a Cherry DVD release, Multikulti Live from Stuttgart, titled “Rat Face,” but could not find the song when attaining licensing. After reaching out to saxophonist/pianist Peter Apfelbaum, who played on the Cherry release, Breiwick learned that it was actually the Coleman tune and that several of the songs on the DVD release were wrongly titled. Simpson lets loose on a motivic whirlwind of a solo, before Breiwick brings everything to a close through his episodic improvisation.
The musicians here are approaching Cherry’s compositions with their own voices, their own energy, their own vocabulary, and their own influences. Doing a tribute like this is their way of communing with the spirits of the masters, honoring their memory and ultimately connecting and continuing that deep tradition. Speaking to the synergy of the quintet, Breiwick notes, “The energy of Cherry’s music is so eternal and thus, the support I get from Devin, Tim, Lenard and Chris are as if we are all one voice. This is the goal. It’s a feeling, and the group is able to connect to something gestalt-like. Cherry sums this idea up nicely himself: “Well for one thing … it’s actually not my music … It’s a culmination of different experiences and different cultures and different composers that involves the music that we play together more than when I’m playing alone.”
At their elemental core, these six unique pieces affiliated with the great Don Cherry are infused with mystery, joy, humor and hope.