Andrew Cyrille Declares His Independence (Once Again, and Twice…)

PHOTO: JESSE CHUN/ECM RECORDS

PHOTO: JESSE CHUN/ECM RECORDS

I could have picked nearly any moment in the past decade or so to celebrate the power and beauty of drummer Andrew Cyrille’s music and his presence on the New York scene. Cyrille is simply that important and prolific, even now at 76. (I certainly should have in 2011, when he released the wonderful album “Route de Freres” with his Haitian Fascination band.

In my Wall Street Journal piece today, I review two new CDs bearing Cyrille’s name: “The Declaration of Musical Independence” (ECM), with Cyrille leading a quartet including guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Ben Street and Richard Teitelbaum on synthesizer and piano; and “Proximity” (Sunnyside), which extends his catalog of duets, alongside tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry.

As I say in the review:

Good jazz drummers offer firm grounding for adventurous music. Great ones open up altogether fresh landscapes. Andrew Cyrille fits comfortably in the latter category. He expanded the language of the trap set in the 1960s and ’70s, most notably through a long tenure in pianist Cecil Taylor’s ensemble, and through his own dazzling solo and duo recordings. He came of age when the jazz-drum tradition was changing in radical ways—moving beyond meter, for instance, and delving more deeply into African rhythms—and yet, even in the midst of so-called energy music, he never lost the core rhythmic values of his earliest work alongside the likes of tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and pianist Mary Lou Williams.

At 76 years old, Mr. Cyrille remains a vital jazz-scene presence in several contexts: as leader of wide-ranging ensembles; playing alongside fellow septuagenarians, bassist Reggie Workman and alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, in the wondrous collective Trio 3; or within groups led by much younger players, such as pianist David Virelles and tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry.

As I sometimes do, I made some phone calls, out of interest and for background. Here’s some stuff that didn’t fit in that Journal piece.

Here’s Cyrille, on his 1981 duo recording with Teitelbaum, “Double Clutch,” drawn from a concert at Manhattan’s now-defunct Soundscape club:

We just listened to each other. It’s almost like we were saying to each other, “Well, let’s just see where this goes.

On the fine art of bandleading:

A lot of people think a bandleader just gets and idea and explains it, just like that. They don’t understand the coordination involved. A good leader gets people to understand how they should be talking to each other, how they should relate. A good leader figures out how to solve problems.

On the track on the new ECM recording, “Dazzling”:

What I did was I assigned a chord to each person and then each person played what they felt that chord meant to them in the context of support

On the tune “Coltrane Time,” which opens the ECM CD:

Rashied [Ali] taught me and Milford Graves that tune when we had a trio. Rashied said, “Here’s a tune that Coltrane taught me, using Indian scales and rhythms. So Coltrane gave Rashied that composition, and he passed it on to us. It’s a good piece for drummers because of the sticking, the thinking, and the concept all work as one. There’s a strong idea of repetition. Rashied gave us the formula and we just played the formula. Now, I could write down those rhythms in Western notation for you, but that’s not how it was transmitted. It was done verbally and simply by playing.

On composing:

As I understand it, many of the swing composers would get the grid of the drums and then they would put what they wanted to write on top of that. A lot of times, I like to get the melody together—I do that on the piano—and sometimes I don’t even know what I’m going to play on the drums.

I spoke with bassist Ben Street, who told me that he likes to think that he provided the impetus for Cyrille’s recording reunion with Teitelbaum:

I’ve always loved “Double Clutch” so pretty much every time I work with Andrew, I ask him, “Will you do another duet with Richard Teitelbaum?” I think he finally gave in.

On working with Cyrille:

Beyond anything technical, the thing I’ve been trying to figure out myself is how is able to achieve and sustain this other level of focus. It’s powerful to be around, and I’ve been trying to figure out how I might get to that myself in my music and just in my life.

I asked saxophonist Bill McHenry, who has also worked closely with the late drummer Paul Motian, if there were any parallels (my point being that, although Motian played very differently than does Cyrille, both could express a great deal with only a few beats, and often in painterly ways). Here’s what he said:

I’ve actually thought about those parallels. They led careers that cover a similar time span. They both worked with important pianists. They both were in unconventional bass-less trios. They both worked with Coleman Hawkins. They both sat in with Coltrane.

(I’ll add that, by the way, I noticed recently that both played on the 1970 debut album from Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.)

And here’s how McHenry describes working with Cyrille:

We can talk and talk about technique. But Andrew expects you to have already worked that out, or he wouldn’t be playing with you. It’s more like: he raises his hand, I take a breath and then it’s do you sound good or not.

Here’s my full review, below:

 

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-declaration-of-musical-independence-and-proximity-reviews-1475095852

 

A Trap Set’s Siren Song

On two new albums, Andrew Cyrille shows why he’s a sought-after partner, by vets and newcomers alike.

By LARRY BLUMENFELD

Good jazz drummers offer firm grounding for adventurous music. Great ones open up altogether fresh landscapes. Andrew Cyrille fits comfortably in the latter category. He expanded the language of the trap set in the 1960s and ’70s, most notably through a long tenure in pianist Cecil Taylor’s ensemble, and through his own dazzling solo and duo recordings. He came of age when the jazz-drum tradition was changing in radical ways—moving beyond meter, for instance, and delving more deeply into African rhythms—and yet, even in the midst of so-called energy music, he never lost the core rhythmic values of his earliest work alongside the likes of tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and pianist Mary Lou Williams.

At 76 years old, Mr. Cyrille remains a vital jazz-scene presence in several contexts: as leader of wide-ranging ensembles; playing alongside fellow septuagenarians, bassist Reggie Workman and alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, in the wondrous collective Trio 3; or within groups led by much younger players, such as pianist David Virelles and tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry.

Two new recordings display Mr. Cyrille’s subtle power and remarkable breadth of expression. On “The Declaration of Musical Independence” (ECM), Mr. Cyrille leads a quartet including guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Ben Street and Richard Teitelbaum on synthesizer and piano. “Proximity” (Sunnyside), which will be released on Friday, extends his catalog of duets, alongside Mr. McHenry.

The ECM release contains a reunion. Messrs. Cyrille and Teitelbaum released a powerful duo recording, “Double Clutch,” on the Swedish Silkheart label in 1981, drawn from a concert at Manhattan’s now-defunct Soundscape club (the two musicians have worked together but not released a recording in the decades since). His connections with Messrs. Frisell and Street are more recent.

There’s no ready template for this quartet, although perhaps a certain logic: Messrs. Frisell and Teitelbaum are among the most distinctive and musical players working with plugged-in instruments and processed sounds, each crafting a signature that seems at once otherworldly and personal. Mr. Street is among jazz’s most versatile bassists, exuding rare empathy in every context. Such a band setup might end up messy or disjointed, however, were it not for Mr. Cyrille, whose unrestrained rhythmic flow is always direct, precise and economical.

The opening 30 seconds of “Declaration” feature only Mr. Cyrille playing snare, diligently and in a manner he likely absorbed as an 11-year-old in the drum and bugle corps of Brooklyn’s St. Peter Claver church. That song, “Coltrane Time,” was composed but never recorded by John Coltrane, and passed on to Mr. Cyrille decades ago by drummer Rashied Ali, who got it from the iconic saxophonist. Here, Mr. Cyrille doesn’t solo (he doesn’t anywhere on this release); rather, he beats out the melody on his impeccably tuned kit, surrounded by resonant halos of sound from his bandmates.

Elsewhere, Mr. Cyrille leads with an authoritative but sometimes demure presence. On Mr. Frisell’s tender composition “Kaddish,” with the guitarist’s haunting melody echoed by hollow glows of tone from Mr. Teitelbaum’s synthesizer, Mr. Cyrille is a quiet rumble of mallets on toms. On an equally spare and lovely song from Mr. Street, “Say,” in which Mr. Teitelbaum plays piano, he’s a light but firm dance of brushes on a snare. On the collectively composed “Sanctuary,” he sounds as if he’s surveying his kit judiciously, reinforcing structure through the application of what might otherwise come off as brief accents.

The Sunnyside release, “Proximity,” grew out of quartet engagements at Manhattan’s Village Vanguard, for which Mr. McHenry was leader. When the two pared down to a duo for one night, “Andrew knew just what he wanted us to do,” Mr. McHenry said in an interview, “so he instantly became the leader.”

Mr. Cyrille is a sought-after duet partner, not only for his openness but also because his trap-set playing is so rich with harmonic possibilities and clearly sustained rhythmic direction. Here, some compositions are from Mr. Cyrille’s peers, as with the skewed bebop of drummer Don Moye’s “Fabula.” Others are Mr. Cyrille’s own pieces, newly enlivened, including his swinging and cleverly syncopated “Drum Song for Leadbelly,” in gleeful homage to the bluesman Huddie Ledbetter, and “Proximity,” a gorgeous ballad that slips in and out of time. Best of all are the improvised pieces, such as “Bedouin Woman,” in which Mr. McHenry’s breathy incantations rise like smoke from a gentle fire kindled by Mr. Cyrille’s mallets, and “Double Dutch,” in which overlapping statements from saxophone and drums sound like the cadences of conversation between dear friends.

The title of his ECM release notwithstanding, Mr. Cyrille declared his musical independence decades ago. He still revels in it, gathering comrades wherever he goes.

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