Best known for her irrepressibly catchy 1989 rap/R&B hybrid “Buffalo Stance,” Neneh Cherry has spent the past two decades flirting with genres like trip-hop and jazzy soul-funk on her sporadic studio offerings. The Cherry Thing is her first foray into jazz proper—the kind learned from her stepdad, legendary free-jazz trumpeter Don Cherry.
True to her musical upbringing, the album isn’t what you’d call traditional: Her collaborators here are Norwegian/Swedish avant-garde trio The Thing, a band whose muscular take on the sax-bass-drums arrangement makes them one of the most exciting groups in modern jazz. It’s hardly surprising that the combination of Cherry and The Thing yields such varied wonders as gorgeous free-flowing takes on both Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” and Ornette Coleman’s “What Reason Could I Give,” as well as a frightening romp through The Stooges’ “Dirt,” all of which find the intensity of baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson’s wailing matched by Cherry’s raspy voice.
The avant-jazz-meets-vocal-jazz of The Cherry Thing shouldn’t work, but the song choices force the otherwise hyperactive rhythm section to home in on the grooves, making for an exhilarating tension between the band’s weirdest tendencies and Cherry’s pop sensibilities. The result is not only one of the most impressive jazz albums in a long, long while, but a serious contender for album of the year in any genre.
Playlist picks: “Dirt,” “Dream Baby Dream,” “Too Tough to Die”