June 14, 2024

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CD review: Ed Cherry – Are We There Yet? 2023: Video, CD cover

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Ed Cherry moved to New York in 1978 to play guitar with Dizzy Gillespie from ’78-’92 recorded and performed in Gillespie’s quartet. He has collaborated with Henry Threadgill, Roy Hargrove, Lonnie Smith, John Patton and many others.
He has released 5 albums a leader and countless others with various musicians. His latest brings a hip, melodic approach that is a refreshing contrast to guitarists who frequently resort to playing ‘finger music’. This 10-track recording is a continuation and salute to Cherry’s influences and mentors in music.

Here’s what Andrew Scott describes in the album liner notes:

In debates between Kenneth Miller, Richard Dawkins, and the late Stephen Jay Gould, the “stay in your lane” boundaries that separate science from theology/philosophy become particularly porous, revealing the frequency with which individuals intellectually “drift” in order to hold onto seemingly contradictory opinions of truth (empirical, scientific) and belief.

Jazz, no less an ideology, has also become “defined” through a series of maxims (“must swing,” “must contain the blues,” “must prefigure improvisation”) that while articulating general truisms perhaps, lay the groundwork for the exceptions that prove the rule. And while no less a philosopher than Duke Ellington once issued the aphorism: “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” jazz is widely accepted to be a “big tent” music, encompassing a broad spectrum of musical beliefs and truths. Whether it is a truth or a belief (or possibly both?) that jazz must contain elements of the blues, what is certain is that the expressive possibilities of the blues to enliven a performance and bring an emotive quality to all music figures centrally in the wonderful playing of guitarist Ed Cherry.

“My first love was the blues,” recalls Cherry from his New York apartment. “I was drawn to it at a young age when I fell in love with the music of Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Freddie King…all the Kings actually, and their offspring.”

Cherry, who still describes himself as a “blues guy,” never strayed far from this initial inspiration. Listen, for example, to “Are We There Yet.” Here, Cherry’s deep understanding of the blues coalesces nicely with his rhythmic looseness and omnipresent swing that channels both Charlie Parker (another influence whom Cherry suggests “sounded best when playing the blues”) and Grant Green, most notably the latter’s work with organists Big John Patton, Larry Young and “Baby Face” Willette.

“The sound of great organ playing has also always stuck with me,” elaborates Cherry, “because when I first got into jazz in New Haven, Connecticut, there were two unsung brothers, Bobby and Eddie Buster, both organ players, who welcomed me in and took the time to show me things and teach me tunes.”

Perhaps because of this formative experience, the “OGD” (organ, guitar, drums) classic pairing has remained central to Cherry’s music in both the aggregation of his working band (Kyle Koehler and Byron Landham) and this recording.

“Basically, these tunes are what this band plays live,” states Cherry, who participated in a few recordings as a side person for Cellar Music before, in his words, “stepping up” do his own session. “Additionally, I’ve always wanted to blend organ with vibraphone,” referencing Larry Young and Bobby Hutcherson’s contributions to the great Grant Green recording, Street of Dreams. An excellent decision! Enter Cherry’s long-time colleague Monte Croft, whose crystalline sound, and melodic contributions on, among other tracks, “Jean Pauline” (an original composition penned for Cherry’s daughters) add much to the swinging trio, lifting this already outstanding band to even greater musical heights.

Returning momentarily to the aforementioned truth vs. belief debate, Cherry, articulating an aphorism of his own, suggests that “everyone should have their own sound, which matures with age.” And while the perennially youthful Cherry numbers now as an NYC jazz scene stalwart (having arrived here in 1978), mentoring guitar students enthusiastic to draw upon his lived experience and sage advice, his is a maturity not measured in coffee spoons (to riff off J. Alfred Prufrock), but in tone, taste and, to again quote Duke Ellington, the “feeling” of jazz that he so beautifully brings to this fine recording here.

Ed Cherry – guitar
Monty Croft – vibraphone
Kyle Kohler – Hammond B3 organ
Byron ‘Wookie’ Landham – drums

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