Don Cherry was obviously a man of many talents. But one of his most impressive skills was his ability to find perfect (and perfectly unusual) collaborators. Ornette Coleman, Lou Reed, Terry Riley, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler, The Watts Prophets, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Rip Rig + Panic, Carla Bley … the list is endless and frequently mind-boggling. But one of the musician’s most important partnerships has been somewhat under-documented. For about a decade and half, he worked closely and extensively with his wife, the Swedish textile artist Moki Cherry (née Karlsson), on an array of projects that beautifully blurred the boundaries between art and life.
Organic Music Societies, a new book (and its accompanying exhibit, currently on display at the Blank Forms gallery space in Brooklyn) is a fantastic and thorough documentation of Don and Moki’s time together, packed with dazzling art and photography, insightful essays, and illuminating interviews. The couple’s vision was utopian and cosmic, certainly, looking to bridge the gaps between cultures, religions, and genres. But it was also decidedly earthbound, with a focus on family, community, and inclusivity. Theirs was an alternative lifestyle, but as you immerse yourself in these pages, it starts making more and more sense.
Further immersion in the Cherry universe is available in two albums released in conjunction with the book — The Summer House Sessions and Organic Music Theatre – Festival de jazz de Chateauvallon 1972. Adorned with a lovely cover painting by Moki, the former takes us to the Swedish countryside in 1968, with Don leading an international octet through an hour-and-a-half of ecstatic improvisation. It’s wild and occasionally dense stuff, but the primary feeling that comes across is childlike wonder, a joyful innocence that saturates every moment. The next step, clearly, would be to bring actual children into the mix — and that’s what we get on Organic Music Theatre, which is billed under the name Don Cherry’s New Researches. Here, Don and Moki are joined not only by Christer Bothén, Gérard “Doudou” Gouirand, and Naná Vasconcelos, but by kids who sing along at Don’s urging. Sticking to piano and harmonium, Don is in fine form, happily vocalizing over the sublime sounds. Music of the moment, full of light and life. | t wilcox