Neneh Cherry is hardly the first artist to take on a mid-to-late-career jazz album. Heck, she’s not even the first ’80s female rapper/singer to venture into this arena. Queen Latifah has put out not one but two such projects.
But Cherry’s work with Norwegian/Swedish jazz trio the Thing — together they form “The Cherry Thing” — is more special than anything similar that has come before it. The back story: A group names itself for a piece by free jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, then links up with his musician stepdaughter, who is known for traversing the worlds of pop, hip-hop and post-punk, and together the four of them decide to toss all of their influences and collective musical obsessions together. Greatness ensues.
Those who think these sorts of collaborations are inspired will love the album immediately. Those who think these sorts of projects are hack will probably love it, too. Even if one finds the tale of how it came to be overly precious, or isn’t a big fan of free jazz, or despises deliberately quirky and incongruous covers, or doesn’t really like Scandinavians, the strange, off-kilter sound manages to appeal.
Cherry’s vocals blow over the trio’s deconstructed sounds like a fog, moving in all directions and just barely binding everything, as on a lovely cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream.” The track starts off seductive and steady, and then gradually and artfully crumbles. A cover of the Stooges’ “Dirt” is about as wonderful and as nasty as avant-jazz gets. But the piece that has gotten the most attention is “Accordion,” an interpretation of a Madvillain track that finds Cherry singing/rapping/purring her way through MF Doom’s lyrics. Something about listening to jazz inspired by hip-hop inspired by jazz seems to have charmed listeners — or maybe it’s just impossible to resist a chance to hear the mind behind the ’80s rap hit “Buffalo Stance” rhyming “Kotex” with “Bowflex” as a guy named Ingebrigt plays the double bass.
“Accordion,” “Dream Baby Dream,” “Dirt”