@ the Love Supreme Jazz Festival
4 July 2015
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“Neneh Cherry Blank Project” is her first solo album
in 16 years - a collaboration with RocketNumberNine, produced by
Four Tet, and featuring a guest appearance by Robyn. The 10-track
album, recorded and mixed over a 5-day period was released February
25, 2014 on Smalltown Supersound. It follows 2012’s “The
Cherry Thing,” a collaborative record with free jazz, noise
collective “The Thing,” which featured new versions
of songs by The Stooges, MF Doom, Ornette Coleman, amongst others.
While her energy and demeanour may not have changed since the
days of Rip Rig + Panic, musically, “Blank Project”
is a departure from anything Cherry has previously done, initially
written as a means of working through personal tragedy. What stands
out upon first listen is the album’s sparseness: loose drums
and a few synthesizers are the only accompaniment to Cherry’s
wildly poetic, sometimes-spoken, sometimes-screeching, soul-flooded
and raw vocals. The space created by this minimal aesthetic leaves
room for occasional pistes and flurries of rapid, yet throbbing
and thunderous instrumentation.
Featuring combined elements of beat poetry, avant-electronica
and beautiful vocal melodies, it’s a record that uses simple
ideas to create something entirely original. And despite the personal
struggles, Cherry was working through in writing this new material,
the songs are far from introverted.
As many are aware, the stories from Cherry’s early years
are astonishing. She spent her childhood living 50/50 between a
loft in New York and in the South of Sweden with her mother and
stepfather, the legendary jazz musician Don Cherry. She’s
been lifted onto Miles Davis’ lap, Allen Ginsberg regularly
passed through their home in an evening and as she got older, she
could pop in on Arthur Russell, Talking Heads and The Modern Lovers
who all lived in the same loft complex in Long Island City New York.
At 14, she started taking trips to Harlem with Ari Up of the Slits
at a time when few would venture so far uptown. Soon after, she
left home and moved to London, and spent the next 20 years inside
the crucial developments in British subculture.
As post-punk became the site of 80s Britain’s artistic and
political resistance, she helped form the anarchic multi-ethnic,
multi-genre Rip, Rig + Panic, and she was one of the first to bring
hip-hop culture to a British audience with “Buffalo Stance”
and Raw Like Sushi. Although at points her career had brushes with
the mainstream, Cherry remained staunchly counter-culture.
Through post-punk’s adherence to mixed-race line-ups and
antigovernment stance, to UK rap’s refusal of the conventions
of pop, triphop’s connection with the politicized elements
of rave culture and, through 1996’s Man, where Cherry introduced
elements of Senegalese language to mainstream audiences for the
first time via the mammoth “7 Seconds” single featuring
Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, and now, with Blank Project,
Cherry continues to arrive at moments in musical history when there
is an opportunity to subvert ideas of popular culture. She is subverting
once again, only this time, although this record is musically bold,
Neneh Cherry sees the stasis she’s challenging isn’t
musical or societal, but her own.