Entrancing. No other word will do to describe the music Don Cherry and the 4-day-old D.C. Jazz Workshop Orchestra performed Saturday night at the Pension Building. The first part of the program was as eclectic as it was exotic. A five-note scale from Mali, an orchestral transcription from Ghana, a Japanese bamboo flute reverie, the idiosyncrasies of British new waver Ian Dury and an oblique tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire's Maurice White merged as one in a densely textured performance made all the more so by the Pension Building's cavernous accoustics.
The three dozen-member orchestra -- an equally diverse arrangement of brass, reeds and percussion -- followed Cherry's lead religiously. There were a few false starts, some tentative moments here and there, but for the most part the entire congregation fell in lock step behind the insinuating melodies played first by Cherry on a variety of instruments and then translated into a hypnotic beat by percussionist Nana Vasconcelos.
Indeed, the orchestra succeeded so brilliantly because it served primarily as a chanting, percussion ensemble, helping to inspire not only its conductor but soloists Julius Hemphill and Ebrahim Shakoor as well.
What Cherry accomplished in a matter of days with this impromptu orchestra borders on a small miracle.