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Symphony For Improvisers (1966)

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Karl Berger

For his second album, Symphony for Improvisers, Don Cherry expanded his Complete Communion quartet -- tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri, bassist Henry Grimes, and drummer Ed Blackwell -- to a septet, adding vibraphonist Karl Berger, bassist Jean François Jenny-Clark, and tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders (who frequently plays piccolo here). The lineup has a real international flavor, since Barbieri was from Argentina, Berger from Germany, and Jenny-Clark from France; Cherry had gigged regularly with all three during his 1964-1965 sojourn in Europe, and brought them to New York to record. With all the added firepower, it's remarkable that Symphony for Improvisers has the same sense of shared space and controlled intelligence as its predecessor, even when things are at their most heated. Once again, Cherry sets up the album as two continuous medleys that fuse four compositions apiece, which allows the group's improvisational energy and momentum to carry straight through the entire program. The "Symphony for Improvisers" suite is the most raucous part of Cherry's Blue Note repertoire, and the "Manhattan Cry" suite pulls off the widest mood shifts Cherry had yet attempted in that format. Even though the album is full of passionate fireworks, there's also a great deal of subtlety -- the flavors added to the ensemble by Berger's vibes and Sanders' piccolo, for example, or the way other instrumental voices often support and complement a solo statement. Feverish but well-channeled, this larger-group session is probably Cherry's most gratifying for Blue Note. ~ Steve Huey