Don Cherry appeared on the first two releases by JCOA, albums under the leadership of label founders Carla Bley and Michael Mantler, so their decision to commission him for the third album seemed a wise move, as indeed it was. Using many of the same musicians who contributed to those records and were then established as the loose collective called the Jazz Composer's Orchestra, Cherry molded into a suite a string of the pieces he'd been composing and performing in the previous few years. Under the tutelage of Pandit Pran Nath, Cherry had been studying and increasingly using Indian karnatic singing in his recordings and concerts; he begins this album with a similarly derived chant. As the energy heats up, the orchestra launches into the captivating "Mali Doussn'gouni," featuring a raging tenor solo by Frank Lowe and delightful vocal acrobatics by Cherry. When it slowly dissolves into his achingly beautiful "Desireless," the first half of the album comes to an extremely satisfying conclusion. The remainder of the session is somewhat more of a mixed bag, succeeding off and on. Highlights include Selene Fung's lovely work on the ching, a Chinese koto-like instrument, and Ed Blackwell's exuberant New Orleans marching patterns on the concluding number. While not as breathtaking or cohesive as his Eternal Rhythm, Relativity Suite almost matches that release in its first half and contains many a worthwhile joy. Recommended.
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