This is one of Don Cherry's first albums as a leader, and is a two part multi movement suite of music. The first suite consists of Complete Communion, And Now, Golden Heart, Remembrance (My Folks), Paris Ambulance Song, and Complete Communion Reprise. The second suite and second side of the LP is Elephantasy, Our Feelings, Bismallah, Wind Sand and Stars, and an Elephantasy Reprise. The music flows freely, swings hard, is filled with short vignettes of the various moods of Don Cherry. Some of the music reminds me of the quirky blues melodies of Ornette Coleman, some of it sounds more like world music (Billy Higgins playing log drums) and others like the bustle of NYC. Henry Grimes leaves the perfect amount of space and silences in his accompaniment throughout the suite, while occasionally busting into the forefront with pizzicato flurries and groaning arco solos. Don Cherry leads the music effortlessly setting up the new tunes by their vamps or melodies, that makes we wish I were around to see this music live. Gato Barbieri is the perfect foil for Don Cherry's trumpet, being just as melodically strong and intact, and balancing that with emotive and sometimes bombastic blowing. Billy Higgins swings his ass off, plain and simple!!
Tom Varner - Second Communion (2000)
Tom Varner was very nice to send me his charts on the Complete Communion music, which I have been putting into finale and arranged a version of it for quartet, that hopefully will be performed several times in the next few months. Tom Varner's tribute album to Second Communion plays the entire first suite of Complete Communion, and then a shortened version of the Elephantasy suite. Tom Varner's quartet is made up of Tony Malaby on saxophone, Matt Wilson on drums and Cameron Brown (who played with Don Cherry) on bass, occasionally augmented by Peter McCann on guitar and Dave Ballou on trumpet. Tony Malaby is the perfect modern day saxophonist playing this music, by weaving seamlessly in and out of composed and improvised music. Tom Varner plays the role of Don Cherry for the suite, and sets up some really nice introductions to the music, which makes me think of Don Cherry's incredibly lyric ability of playing trumpet and singing. The music really sings, and this version is attentive to that, as well as capturing the varying moods of the individual pieces. The added colors of the trumpet and guitar are a little sparse, but really help change the character of the suite, like the next Don Cherry album "Symphony for Improvisors" that featured the "Complete Communion" quartet plus Karl Berger on vibraphone, JF Clark on bass, and Pharoah Sanders of tenor saxophone and piccolo. As a side note Dave Douglas has performed live versions of some of the "Symphony for Improvisors" music and "Complete Communion."
Atle Nymo/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Håkon Mjåset-Johansen - Play Complete Communion (2007)
This is an exciting heavier feeling version of the music, arranged for a trio of sax, bass and drums. The bass comes out in the front a lot more, covering some of the horn lines, while jumping between that and the music's bass lines. This is a very recent version, and does a great job relaying the tradition and keeping all the musical integrity intact, while making it their own, with variations in the arrangements from the original Don Cherry version. This is a very high energy and exciting version, and check this and all of these albums out!
This version is in the mail, so I can't report on it yet, but there are several youtube videos of this band playing the music. I'll edit this post once I hear the album!
EDIT: I got the record today, and so far is killing! I didn't check the tracklist when I bought it, so it's miscellaneous Don Cherry tunes, Complete Communion, Elephantasy and Remembrance are the only 3 tunes from the Complete Communion Suite, but they are played well. Some of the melodies are arranged a little different orchestrationally/rhytmically/formally, but I really like it! It's a super tight and compact version of the music, clean, swinging, and kind of straight ahead (for lack of a better term). I dig it, and can't wait to hear the other Don Cherry tunes!
I have several jazz tribute projects, playing the music of Ornette Coleman, John Zorn, Dave Holland's Conference of the Birds, John Coltrane's Ascension, Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, and so this is my first of hopefully more to come performances of Don Cherry's Complete Communion. If anyone wants a copy of my arrangement for quartet send me a note at 1smileymn AT gmail DOT com, and I'll shoot it your way. I'm still editing the parts and cleaning it up, but have a playable version ready to go! This music is inspiring me to write more, so I'm hoping to get a suite of music of my own together to play over the summer for some 2014 summer Colorado festivals!