Andrew Cyrille Quartet — The Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM, 2016)
This orbit reaches apogee in “Dazzling (Perchordially Yours),” an homage to silences. Most of the track features small scribbles of improvising bordered by bubbles of emptiness. Even the crashing segments, where the entire quartet gears up to make some noise, carries a meditative quality.
It’s the kind of track where the musicians will insist there’s no “lead” player, but I think of Cyrille having the floor. He shapes the piece with slow gong strikes or the sparse clacking of wood blocks, declaring authority inside the field of silence. His patient approach reminds me of his playing on Monk’s Japanese Folk Song (Dizim, 1997), the jazz trio album by koto player Miya Masaoka.
The album does include tunes that are more directly jazzy, written by the other players: Bill Frisell (guitar), Richard Teitelbaum (piano/synths), and Ben Street (bass). Teitelbaum’s “Herky Jerky,” for instance, is a busy track featuring knotty, active improvisation — you’d hear it and point directly to “free jazz.”
Much of the album, though, carries that sense of time stretched apart. “Say…” written by Street, has the four players following their own slow, unspoken rhythms. The tangible melody of Frisell’s guitar sort of sets a tempo, but it’s not certain that the others are in step; the magic is in letting the music drift past, absorbing the “whole” that the four are individually creating.
“Coltrane Time” is the track that’s drawn the most attention. Written but never recorded by Coltrane, and down through Rashied Ali to Cyrille and Milford Graves, the composition appears to be a long snare-drum line. Cyrille, according to the liner notes, repeats it while playing with the tempo and adding accents on the rest of the drum kit.
What I said about stretched time goes for “Coltrane Time” too, but it might be harder to notice, because it’s the noisiest track on the album. I think it’s Teitelbaum on synthesizer who’s doing the screechy, guitar-hero-sounding solo, with Frisell calmly arpeggiating and sprinkling crystal harmonic notes. But despite the central role of the snare, there’s no clear “center” to the rhythm.
Frisell’s presence on the album took some getting used to. That makes me a bad jazz fan, I know, but while his toneful Americana guitar adds a beautiful shimmer, it’s sometimes a distraction.
He’s still got a touch for the abstract, as you can hear in his squiggles and blips on “Manfred” and the deliciously disconnected improv, “Sanctuary.” (He did come from the ’80s downtown NYC scene, after all.) But I found myself longing for a less chummy sound. I also don’t agree with the inclusion of his composition “Kaddish,” a straight-up sad tune with solid melody; it’s played with a mood befitting the album but is still quite the anomaly, like a beginner’s guide to the rest of the album.
Cyrille remains active, which is good to see. Proximity (Sunnyside, 2016), a duo album with Bill McHenry came out concurrently with Declaration and is getting a lot of press. His Route de Frères (Tum, 2011), recorded with a quintet called Haitian Fascination, is a quintet date with some Caribbean influence. (Side note: It features saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, who’s now facing retirement due to health problems.) And of course, Trio 3, with Oliver Lake and Reggie Workman, is still going.
I’ve recently delved into Cyrille’s past with Metamusicians Stomp (Black Saint, 1978) by the band Maono, which included Ted Daniel on trumpet and a young David S. Ware. And I’m not done; I think my next Cyrille exploration might be the piano trio led by Søren Kjærgaard, who’s employed Cyrille and Street for a series of albums on Danish label Ilk Music.