By 1965, Don Cherry had been part of some of the most revolutionary jazz ever played, central to the very beginnings of free jazz with Ornette Coleman as well as collaborations with other giants of the music including Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Steve Lacy and the New York Contemporary Five.
Cherry Jam, now the earliest released recording of Cherry as a band leader, shows a very different side to his playing. Recorded for Danish National Radio, the album features Cherry playing three original compositions and a standard with a local band Mogens Bollerup on tenor, Atli Bjørn on piano, Benny Nielsen on bass and Simon Koppel on drums.
Nothing on this recording indicates that Cherry was just two months away from recording his classic Blue Note album Complete Communion with Gato Barbieri, Henry Grimes and Ed Blackwell. While that album is a significant masterpiece that builds on what Cherry was doing with Ornette but puts a personal, unique spin on it, Cherry Jam is basically a hard bop album with a pick-up band.
Pianist Atli Bjørn and bassist Benny Nielsen had recorded with Dexter Gordon only a few months before this date, and that gives some indication of both their standing and their style. The band are good, Cherry sounds comfortable and this is an enjoyable listen, if not an essential part of his discography. It is valuable to have three more Cherry compositions, none of them recorded elsewhere to my knowledge. Gearbox are an audiophile label that specialise in mastering for vinyl, and that is apparent with this release. They have done an absolutely fantastic job of the 12 45rpm disc, pleasingly heavy and beautifully pressed in warm and detailed mono.