After stepping out of Ornette Coleman’s shadow and into his bandleader shoes, Don Cherry released a string of increasingly avant-garde recordings that each played a crucial role in the development of his sound and individuality. This growth culminated with Eternal Rhythm, a flourishing work that established Cherry as an essential trumpeter of the 60s avant-garde jazz scene and an innovator of a new sound all his own. Combining post-bop, free jazz, blues, Gamelan, and other world music elements, Eternal Rhythm is an absolute whirlwind of sound that ebbs and flows between disparate genres with an effortless flick of a wrist.
Instrumentation is wide and varied, with the traditional post-bop set up giving way to electric guitars, oboes, and other gamelan tools. Cherry himself plays a range of bamboo flutes and bells to an excellent effect. His flute playing is lovely and mysterious as Cherry is seemingly enamored with the mystique surrounding these Eastern sounds. Bells serve as surprise tone bursts that helps give structure to an otherwise mess of spinning sound. Yet, at the center of this bricolage is Cherry manning his signature pocket trumpet, and his playing is better than ever. Cherry was never the most technical player, often cracking, slurring, and stumbling along quick improvised runs, but it is his sloppiness that gives his playing such distinct emotion. On Eternal Rhythm, Cherry’s trumpet sounds nervous and anxious at some points, flittering around the chaos surrounding him, attempting to craft his own sonic landscape and burst through the noise. Other times he’s an aloof snake charmer impressed with his own enigma and arrogant enough to flaunt it so flamboyantly. Occasionally Cherry and the band will swing and find a locked groove, in which he becomes a cool, cocky showman. His squeaky pocket trumpet contains multiple personalities that come and go rapidly: a dizzying troupe contained in one entertaining piece of metal.
As a result, Eternal Rhythm is just that: dizzying. Some sections are meticulously composed, others are freely improvised, and yet distinguishing between the two is nearly impossible. Cherry and his band have crafted a stunning and visceral piece of music that is absolutely brimming with energy and life. Eternal Rhythm is a joyous work that finds bandleader Don Cherry breaking down the barriers of music into a messy pulp of style and substance, and finding himself as a master trumpeter in the process.