On November 19th a marvelous concert occurred at The Back Room on Bonita Avenue in Berkeley, California. First a few words about The Back Room. Tucked away on a side street off a main drag, you wouldn’t know it was there unless you knew it was there. Imagine a room full of couches and some chairs against the wall, room enough for about a hundred people. The backdrop is a red brick wall with the venue’s logo. Sam Rudin has been putting on concerts at the Back Room for seven years now and I am glad I finally made the scene.
Peter Apfelbaum reconvened the band that backed Don Cherry toward the end of his days on the planet. Apfelbaum was the leader of the 17 piece music aggregation called The Hieroglyphics Ensemble and Cherry liked their music so much he wanted to use some of them to form a band. Multi-Kulti became that band, including Apfelbaum on piano, soprano and tenor saxophones, flute, melodica and percussion, Bo Freeman on acoustic and electric basses, and Josh Jones on drums and percussion.
Multi-Kulti opened with a Turkish folk song and proceeded to explore their repertoire in homage to Don Cherry. It seems he taught the group many things, including to be humble in the face of world music. The audience got some insight into how Cherry led the band. For example he would count off the rhythm of a song not using numbers but something like: Hippity Hop, Hippity Hop, Hippity Hop, Kangaroo, Kangaroo. To say Cherry was a unique and brilliant guy would be an understatement.
About a third of the way through the set Will Bernard sat in with the band on guitar. Bernard’s guitar playing added a nice tonal texture to the band’s overall sound. The packed crowd enjoyed a Hieroglyphics tune, “Divinity Tree”, an unrecorded Ornette Coleman composition, “Race Face” and “Bemsha Swing” by Thelonious Monk. Apfelbaum told the story of Cherry’s meeting with Monk at his home. Monk didn’t formally teach music but he did show Cherry some of his tunes which Cherry in turn taught the members of Multi-Kulti.
Apfelbaum spent most of the time playing very percussive and unconventional piano. There were a few moments where he played the tenor sax and the piano at the same time, creating a fatter sound. At one point Apfelbaum took out a bullhorn and had a playful exchange with Bernard on guitar.
The last song was a piece the band played with Cherry and featured a piano introduction and solos by Jones and Freeman. Freeman’s solo on electric bass was particularly far-reaching and beautifully rendered.
Multi-Kulti’s members, Apfelbaum, Freeman and Jones with an assist from Bernard, brought the spirit and vibrant life of Don Cherry into the intimate and comfortable Back Room for a brief and decidedly memorable Sunday afternoon.
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