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Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Dwight Trible, David Ornette Cherry

Spirit Gatherer • Tribute To Don Cherry (2LP)

Label: Spiritmuse Records

Format: 2LP

Genre: Jazz

In process of stocking

Tip! Visionary percussionist and veteran bandleader Kahil El’Zabar leads his Ethnic Heritage Ensemble in celebration of the legendary jazz pioneer Don Cherry and releases new album Spirit Gatherer and previews the first track ‘Don Cherry’. The fifth of a series of Spiritmuse recordings that began with 2019’s Be Known: Ancient/Future Music [Spiritmuse KEZ001], Spirit Gatherer finds the three-person Ethnic Heritage Ensemble joined by two storied guest artists: Dwight Trible, vocalist with the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, and multi-instrumentalist David Ornette Cherry, Don Cherry’s eldest son. Performed by a group of artists who intimately understand the profundity of Don Cherry’s contribution to universal musical and artistic culture, Spirit Gatherer is a powerful, spiritualised tribute to one of the giants of twentieth century music.

Don Cherry was a true original. A pioneer of the jazz avant-garde, he first emerged as part of the Ornette Coleman group. After quickly establishing himself as a key figure in America, he eventually relocated to Europe, where he moved beyond jazz to pursue a universal spirit music. Cherry’s quest was spiritual, musical, social and political – open-hearted and profoundly humane, his life and art were dedicated to beauty and the betterment of all humanity. His music carries a crucial message for today, and Kahil El’Zabar and the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble dedicate their new album Spirit Gatherer to him, both to honour his legacy and highlight his ever-growing importance. ‘Don Cherry is the essential, iconic, urban shaman,’ says Kahil El’Zabar. ‘After doing America the Beautiful [Spiritmuse KEZ005] and speaking to the political, social times; and then believing that there has to be resolution, that's why there was A Time for Healing [Spiritmuse KEZ007]. Then after the time for healing, you have to acknowledge the mentors that actually expressed that healing, so that we can figure out better ways to use it. And I couldn't find a better example for now than Don Cherry to amplify that. And so that's why we call him the Spirit Gatherer, which is the name of the album.’ 

A legendary figure with over fifty years experience in jazz and improvised music (including a decade as the chair of Chicago avant-garde collective the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), El’Zabar brings a powerful heritage and a wealth of experience to his art, directing the songs on Spirit Gatherer with kalimba, voice, or cajon. ‘Don Cherry was griot of the community,’ he says, and this deeply spiritual and shamanic aspect of aspect of Cherry’s practice is echoed in El’Zabar’s own musical journey. ‘The whole key to the story is learn to own your voice. But first, you have to have the grace of history to inform you as you translate it into your individual idea… The was the journey of Don Cherry, and that’s a parallel in terms of my life choices – his model of eclecticism, his model of independence and individuality, his sense of style, his lyrical expressions of being: these were all things that I tried to emulate in my own character.’

For El’Zabar and the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Cherry’s message has a particular resonance in our troubled times: ‘Against the atrocities of current day, the way that we saved ourselves is that we all went to our spirit at this time, and the arts were the conduit to the opening of our health, our wellness as human beings. And so we're all feeling a vibe now. It’s not just about the aesthetics of the music – it's about the utility of service that the music brings to you. And that's why Don Cherry is resonating with the current generation, because he was true to that energy.’ A lesser known aspect of El’Zabar’s creative artistry is his widely respected work as a fashion designer, and in this field too, he was inspired by Don Cherry. ‘Don Cherry was a lot more influential in fashion than people realise, because he was a part of the forward underground culture, which always informs the popular culture,’ El’Zabar observes. 

As well as several originals by the leader, the songs selected for Spirit Gatherer draw their power from Don Cherry’s legacy, and reach out the spiritualised milieu in which he worked and lived. The music calls forth the sanctified universal folklore of Cherry’s music and refracts it through the firmly rooted Africentric modal grooves now synonymous with El’Zabar’s art. Cherry’s first great collaborator, Ornette Coleman, is represented by his deathless composition ‘Lonely Woman’; in tribute to Cherry’s favourite composer, Thelonious Monk, the band tackle ‘Well You Needn’t’ with a low-key, funked-up read; and Coltrane, with whom Cherry collaborated at various times, is evoked through a musical prayer to A Love Supreme.

In this exalted company the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble’s sonic odyssey goes from strength to strength, opening up new spaces of healing in our present tribulation, new connections to the wisdom of the ancestors, and new vistas onto mended futures. We hope that you enjoy the journey of the Spirit Gatherer. As on previous Spiritmuse albums from El’Zabar, stunning original album artwork by multi-disciplinary artist Nep Sidhu accompanies the music. The album is presented with archive images of Don Cherry, courtesy of the Cherry Archive, Estate of Moki Cherry.

Cat. number: SPM-KEZ010
Year: 2023
Original artwork. Gatefold cover.