If you know only that Andrew Cyrille was Cecil Taylor’s go-to drummer from the mid sixties until the mid seventies, and that his new album kicks off with a piece by John Coltrane, then you might expect something very different to what you’ll get on The Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM). A better pointer might be that the most senior of his new bandmates, Richard Teitelbaum on synths and piano, was a founding member of Musica Elettronica Viva, and a close associate of Luigi Nono.
Then there’s guitarist Bill Frisell, whose guitar and trademark delay effects are seldom heard in such ravishing close focus as they are here, and bassist Ben Street, who is also the bassist of choice for another percussion great with a quartet on ECM, Billy Hart (witness 2014’s marvellous One Is The Other).
This new all-American quartet breaks with Cyrille’s run of work with European artists, which resulted in a set of duos and trios (adding bassist William Parker) with Finnish saxophonist Mikko Innanen (Song for a New Decade), and a collaboration with Belgian improv trio Bambi Pang Pang, Drop Your Plans, which I flagged as “work of acute, sinuous sensitivity”.
The Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM) is even more remarkable, setting Cyrille firmly adrift from the post-bop tradition of his early mentor Philly Joe Jones; as firm a statement of independence from rote rhythmic and timekeeping duties as a drummer could make.
The set frames three atmospheric collective improvisations with compositions – three by Frisell, one each by Street and Teitelbaum – kicking off with that piece by Coltrane. “Coltrane Time” was unrecorded by ‘Trane but passed down via Rashied Ali and first recorded by Cyrille and Milford Graves on their Dialogue of the Drums in 1974 (the same year, incidentally, in which Teitelbaum played Moog on Anthony Braxton’s groundbreaking “Composition 36: HM 421 (RTS) 47“).
Cyrille introduces “Coltrane Time” with a solo snare tattoo, then expands upon it with variations while Frisell mixes highly charged detonations with luminous picking over Street’s cavernous contrabass; a bruised and brooding treatment far from Coltrane’s influence.
Cyrille’s group exploits Frisell’s creativity just as John Zorn once did in Naked City, albeit to lesser extremes. Anyone who, like me, loves the guitarist’s sound and melodic sensibility, but finds many of the albums under his own name just too comfortable, will welcome this album. He picks out the plaintive melody of his own radiant “Kaddish” in clear, incisive tones to the subtlest accompaniment of strummed bass, rolling toms and sampled clarinet.
“Begin”, another Frisell composition, is focused on the treated peal and shimmer of his guitar, but there’s a microcosm of alternatively-sourced sound beneath the surface that sets up the following group improvisation. Titled “Manfred” for ECM’s Manfred Eicher (who actually didn’t produce this one), and with Teitelbaum on electronics broadly in the style of Ikue Mori, this moody urban fantasia wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Naked City’s Heretic.
That nicely sets up Frisell’s third and album-closing piece, “Song for Andrew”, on which the composer elaborates on a songlike motif related to “O sole mio” while Cyrille explodes rhythmic energy into brittle and febrile thunderheads of pointillist cymbal clicks and snare buzz.
Of the other composed pieces, Ben Street’s “Say” has Teitelbaum on lulling piano, and Frisell’s guitar unusually reverb’d to create pools of depthless surface shimmer agitated by the composers stone-drop/sonic ripple contrabass, everything enlivened by Cyrille’s restless brushwork and subtle kick drumming.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Teitelbaum’s “Herky Jerky”, a knotty tumble of collective energy focused on stepwise bass progressions, is the most forthright thing here.
But the album’s mood is settled by the first two collective improvisations: the jittery, electro-acoustic, percussion-centric “Sanctuary”, and the album’s longest piece, “Dazzling (Perchordally Yours)”, a sequence of one-chord improvisations. This has Cyrille and Teitelbaum at their least self-effacing. The leader opens proceedings with a short solo on peripheral percussion, pending an irruption of synthesized sound. Staccato interruptions by Street and Frisell then gradually tease and tear apart an ebb-and-flow tension between rhythm and ambience, with Frisell carving out yet another compelling solo and variations, drawing fine responses in variegated sampled sound from Teitelbaum.
As an out-sourced New York production to rank alongside David Torn’s remarkable Prezens (ECM, 2005), this remarkable session winkle-picks something from the American jazz scene that an American label likely wouldn’t.
The marriage of severe but clear-cut tonal beauty to restive understatement in free- or anti-rhythms might be disconcerting, or just plain ineffable to some, but I reckon the balance is spot-on.
Andrew Cyrille drums, percussion; Bill Frisell guitar; Richard Teitelbaum piano, synthesizer, Ben Street bass..
Bambi Pang Pang featuring Andrew Cyrille – Drop Your Plans.
Billy Hart Quartet – One Is The Other.
Stefano Bollani (feat. Bill Frisell) – Joy in Spite of Everything.
Bill Frisell ‘The Great Flood’ at London Jazz Festival 2012.
Buy Andrew Cyrille Quartet – The Declaration of Musical Independence direct from ECM.