World music group
Perhaps the first group of any genre to blend elements of Latin American and African musical folk traditions into what eventually became known as world music, Codona was a merger of three major talents from very different segments of the jazz tradition. Percussionist Nana Vasconcelos provided Brazilian rhythms, which he played on a variety of Third World instruments. Collin Walcott added Indian instrumentation played on sitar and tabla, as well as playing dulcimer and timpani. Jazz trumpet legend Don Cherry supplemented the group’s sound with melodica, organ, and flutes in addition to cornet and trumpet. The multi-instrumentalists recorded three albums between 1978 and 1982, in between other musical projects.
Don Cherry was renowned as a collaborator on the blues scale-based free jazz experimentations of saxophone innovator Ornette Coleman on the latter’s groundbreaking albums recorded with bassist Charlie Haden and drummers Billie Higgins and Edward Black-well in the late 1950s and 1960s. Cherry was noted as an expressive trumpet and cornet player, focusing on the pocket trumpet. A restless innovator, Cherry appeared on such seminal Coleman albums as Tomorrow Is the Question, Something Else, Change of the Century, and Free Jazz. According to All Music Guide writer Chris Kelsey, these albums are notable for interplay between Coleman and Cherry, which he described as their “elastic relationship to pitch and swing-time [that] were certainly a liberation from the tyranny of equal temperament and literal pulse.” Kelsey described Cherry’s playing as “in a real sense grounded in bebop. He wasn’t an especially strong bebop player by classic standards—his range and facility were somewhat limited, for one thing—but externally, his style bore the marks of modern jazz in terms of melody, harmony, rhythm, and phrasing . Evaluating Cherry in classic terms is a mistake, for like Miles Davis—and Coleman, for that matter—concepts of Western musical objectivity were nearly irrelevant to his work.”
Cherry also contributed his talents and ideas to important free jazz albums of the 1960s by artist John Tchicai, Albert Ayler, and Archie Shepp. He continued his musical explorations with Gato Barbieri on such albums as Complete Communion and Symphony for Improvisors. Recorded in Europe, these albums led Cherry to tour Africa and Asia, where he became immersed in the various indigenous music of these continents. Creating a home base for himself in Sweden in the 1970s, Cherry also educated himself in European and Middle Eastern musical traditions. During this period, he taught himself to play wooden flute, doussn’ gouni, berimbau, and other nontraditional instruments to the jazz idiom. He also expanded his talent as a piano player with instruction on other keyboards such as melodica and organ. In the 1970s, Cherry formed the group Old and New Dreams with bassist Haden, drummer Blackwell, and saxophonist Dewey Redman to record two albums that alternated Ornette Coleman compositions with original material. Following his tenure in Codona, Cherry recorded with such varied musicians as Lou Reed and Abdullah Ibrahim. He died in 1995, leaving behind a vast musical legacy in both jazz and world music. He is recognized by pop music fans as the father of Eagle-Eye Cherry and the stepfather of Neneh Cherry.
Vasconcelos began his musical career when he was twelve years old by playing bongos and maracas in his father’s band. He began playing drums shortly thereafter, also becoming adept at the berimbau, an instrument shaped like an archer’s bow. He perfected his skills playing the odd-numbered 5/4 and 7/4 meters common to players in the north of Brazil. He relocated to Rio de Janeiro, where he performed with Milton Nascimento in the mid-1960s. Gato Barbieri subsequently hired Vasconcelos for a 1971 tour of Argentina, Europe, and the United States. After relocating to Paris, France, he jammed several times with Cherry in Sweden. In 1976 Vasconcelos came to the attention of
ECM producer Manfred Eicher after performing on a label recording by Brazilian guitarist and wood flute player Egberto Gismonti, entitled Danca Das Cabecas. Following Walcott’s death and the resulting end of Codona, Vasconcelos joined Pat Metheny’s group, continued to record and tour with Cherry as well as with Norwegian saxophonist and ECM label-mate Jan Garbarek, and formed a duo with Scottish classical percussionist Evelyn Glennie. He also was a guest artist on recordings by Talking Heads, B.B. King, and Paul Simon.
For the Record…
Members include Don Cherry (born on November 18, 1936, in Oklahoma City, OK; died on October 19, 1995, in Malaga, Spain), trumpet, cornet, flute, doussn’ gouni, melodica, organ, vocals; Nana Vasconcelos (born on August 2, 1944, in Recife, Brazil), berimbau, talking drum, cuica, percussion, vocals; Collin Walcott (born on April 24, 1945, in New York, NY; died on November 8, 1984, in Madgeburg, Germany), sitar, tabla, sanza, dulcimer, timpani, vocals.
Group formed after Cherry and Walcott performed together on Walcott’s solo album, Grazing Dreams, late 1970s; released Codona, Vol. 1 on ECM, 1978; released follow-up, Codona, Vol. 2, 1980; released third album, Codona, Vol. 3, 1982; group disbanded after Walcott died in a bus crash in East Germany, 1984.
Walcott studied violin at an early age, but he also displayed an interest in various percussive instruments, which he studied at Indiana University. He later discovered a passion for the sitar and tabla, which he pursued by taking lessons from Indian masters Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha. He played with Tony Scott from 1967 to 1969, toured with folk musician Tim Hardin, and joined the Paul Winter Consort in 1970. It was in this last group that Walcott met guitarist Ralph Towner, oboist Paul McCandless, and bassist Glenn Moore. These musicians formed the first and most popular incarnation of Oregon, a phenomenally popular group that blended impeccable musicianship with jazz, chamber, classical, and Indian stylings. During his breaks from Oregon, Walcott recorded the three Codona albums with Cherry and Vasconcelos. He died from injuries sustained in a bus accident while touring Germany with Oregon in 1984. Oregon bandmate Towner recalled his collaborator on Walcott’s website: “He combined the scholarly approach with the instinctive, the passionate with the pragmatic in the most complete and successful ways that I had ever seen.” Moore added: “Collin was so unusually gifted as a trained classical percussionist, a conductor, and as a classical guitarist he had so much talent and such a refined sense of being a student of all musics .”
Described by Kelsey as “a pastiche of African, Asian, and other indigenous musics,” Codona formed in 1977 at the prompting of Manfred Eicher. Cherry guested on Walcott’s solo album Grazing Dreams, and Walcott had met Vasconcelos at a recording session for Egberto Gismonti’s Sol do Meio Dia. The trio’s three groundbreaking albums gained critical respect and accolades from discerning jazz aficionados, and they are credited with presaging the rise of world music in the 1980s. The multi-instrumental capabilities of each of Codona’s members as well as their diverse musical backgrounds resulted in a musical stew that seamlessly blends musical influences as widely divergent as American soul and pop, free jazz, Indian, Middle Eastern, European, and South American folk music.
Codona recorded their first album in Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg, in what was then West Germany. According to the The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, this debut is “one of the iconic episodes in so-called (but never better called) ‘world music.’” The writer goes on to describe the group’s music: “Any tendency to regard Codona’s music, or Walcott’s compositions, as floating impressionism is sheer prejudice, for all these performances are deeply rooted in modern jazz (Coltrane’s harmonies and rhythms, Ornette Coleman’s melodic and rhythmic primitivism) and in another great and related improvisational tradition from Brazil.” The debut album is noted for including a medley of Coleman tunes blended with portions of Stevie Wonder’s musical tribute to Duke Ellington, “Sir Duke.” According to the Penguin editors: “The permutations of instrumental sounds are astonishing, but rooted in a basic jazz-trio format of horn, harmony and percussion. All three men contribute string accompaniment: Walcott on his sitar, Vasconcelos on the ‘bow-and-arrow’ berimbau, Cherry on the Malian doussn’ gouni. The interplay is precise and often intense.” While admiring the group’s two subsequent albums, the Penguin editors concluded that neither matches the first in terms of artistic audacity; they did, however, admire the composition “Walking on Eggs” from Codona, Vol. 3 as “one of [Walcott’s] and [Codona’s] best performances.”
Codona, Vol. 1, ECM/Polygram, 1978.
Codona, Vol. 2, ECM/Polygram, 1980.
Codona, Vol. 3, ECM/Polygram, 1982.
Cook, Richard, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, Penguin, 2001.
Kernfeld, Barry, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Macmillan, 2002.
Larkin, Colin, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, MUZE, 1998.
“Codona,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (May 21, 2003).
“Collin Walcott,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (May 21, 2003).
Collin Walcott Official Website, http://www.collinwalcott.com (May 21, 2003).
“Don Cherry,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (May 21, 2003).
“Nana Vasconcelos,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (May 21, 2003).
Oregon Official Website, http://www.oregonband.com (May 21, 2003).
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