This collaboration sounds like something someone made up on a blog, but it’s real, and what’s more, it works. Neneh Cherry has as much right to dabble in jazz as anyone not immediately identified with the music. Her stepfather was free-jazz trumpet pioneer Don Cherry; her first band, as an emancipated teenager in post-punk London, was Rip Rig + Panic, named after Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s 1965 album. Rough, hard-swinging improv trio the Thing — saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Ingebrigt HÃ¥ker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love — are named for a 1969 Don Cherry song, and are based in Stockholm, Neneh’s birthplace. The Cherry Thing, then, has an air of kismet about it, though both the singer and the band sound carefully exploratory, with the normally furious Thing laying back a bit to accommodate their very special guest.
The selection is appropriately wide-ranging. Cherry’s own “Cashback” kicks things off hesitantly at first, but soon the Thing leans hard into the groove and it lifts off; similarly, the Gustaffson-penned “Sudden Moment” begins softly, then speeds up to a skid. The cover versions are great press-bait, appropriate for the players involved, and genuinely intriguing. “Accordion,” from 2004′s Madvillain, is blown up from Madlib and MF Doom’s original two minutes to a full six, with Cherry scatting the lyrics more than rapping or singing them; she gives the line “got more rhymes than a church got ‘ooh lords’” a delicious, appropriate growl. Their version of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” is The Cherry Thing‘s highlight, the song’s ruminative tension perfect for four explorers who can follow or ignore the script as they feel like.