The Cherry Thing You Do
In the late eighties when Neneh Cherry first burst onto the scene with her album, Raw Like Sushi, and won two Brit awards, she promptly melted one of them and got it crafted into jewellery, some of which she gifted to other nominees in the categories she won the award for. Raw Like Sushi showcased the then still incipient trend of hip-hop and rap but with an infusion of electronica, a genre that earned it the label trip-hop. The tracks on that debut album, including two major hits, Buffalo Stance and Manchild, brought her instant fame. And, more important than that, an enviably cool image.
Besides the upbeat danceable tempo, Raw Like Sushi’s songs had lyrics that told stories. The album began with Buffalo Stance, a big, big tune with lyrics and a beat that instantly hooks you: Who’s that gigolo on the street/ With his hands in his pockets and his crocodile feet/ Hanging off the curb, looking all disturbed/ At the boys from home. They all came running/ They were making noise, manhandling toys/ That’s the girls on the block with the nasty curls/Wearing padded bras sucking beers through straws/ Dropping down their drawers, where did you get yours? On Manchild, a ballad she co-wrote with the British trip-hop band, Massive Attack’s 3D, she pushes the melody to create unexpected and quirky meanderings. On Inna City Mamma, she sings about New York and its “cold blooded ways”.
Nearly a quarter of a century after Raw Like Sushi first came out, got feted and made a star out of Cherry, I heard the album again last week. And not only is it still raw like sushi but fresh as if it was made, like, yesterday. True, there are some straight rap tunes that seem a bit outdated but the rest of it and the overall effect is quite suitable for an upbeat-ish listening session anytime you want. And if you want to dance, you couldn’t ask for anything better..
The real reason why I was listening to Raw Like Sushi was because I was going backwards. Sixteen years after Cherry released her third solo album, Man (1996), she has burst back on the scene again this year. This time with a genre-bending new album, The Cherry Thing, which is a collaboration with a Swedish-Norwegian free jazz trio called The Thing, which is, not coincidentally, the name of a tune by early free jazz cornetist, Don Cherry.
Here’s the other thing: Don Cherry was Neneh’s stepfather with whom she spent much of her formative years – years when she had rare experiences of, at age 4, sitting on the lap of Miles Davis backstage or having saxophonist (and violinist and trumpeter) Ornette Coleman as a close family friend. Later, she launched herself as a punk singer and dabbled in reggae as well.
When I first heard of The Cherry Thing as a joint venture between a trip-hop singer and a free jazz trio, I was prepared to hear something that would either be pretentious or abstract (as free jazz can often be) or an outright mess of two rather disparate genres. In fact, the album is just the opposite of either of those. The trio – a saxophonist, a double bassist and a drummer – and Cherry sonically get along perfectly. Her versatile vocals and Mats Gustafsson’s rebellious sax complement each other – they wrestle and fight and then make up – and, in the end, produce an unexpectedly delightful album. Many of the tunes on The Cherry Thing are covers – including an Ornette Coleman tune, a Don Cherry composition, and a cover of a song by hip-hop group, Madvillain.
The Cherry Thing did two things for me. First, it made me rediscover Neneh Cherry whose music I’d heard (casually, I must admit) years back. And second, it gave me an opportunity to dip my ears in free jazz, something I hadn’t done in years. Even if the abstract form of free jazz daunts you, The Cherry Thing is such a good blend of great pop singing with a radically wild jazz ensemble that it could lead you to explore the seemingly more impenetrable music of free jazz pioneers such as Cherry and Coleman, of course, but also of jazz artists such as John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and many, many more. The Cherry Thing is a good stepping stone if you want to explore jazz. It doesn’t hurt that it comes with a great singer such as Neneh Cherry too.
Had he been alive, on August 1, Jerry Garcia would have turned 70. Ironically, August 9 marked his 17th death anniversary. But the hugely influential lead guitarist, singer and, some would say, leader of the Grateful Dead, had several other projects going alongside—solo albums, the Jerry Garcia Band, collaborations with other musicians and so on. To mark his 70th birth anniversary, here’s a set of nuggets that you can download. Free, of course.