The great jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille – whose associations have ranged from a long, vintage collaboration with Cecil Taylor to co-leading the collective Trio 3 with Oliver Lake and Reggie Workman – makes his ECM leader debut with The Declaration of Musical Independence. Featuring a quartet with guitar luminary Bill Frisell, keyboardist Richard Teitelbaum and bassist Ben Street, the album kicks off with an artfully oblique interpretation of John Coltrane’s “Coltrane Time,” led by Cyrille’s solo drum intro. The disc then features a sequence of sonically arresting originals, including Street’s luminous “Say…” and Frisell’s deeply felt “Kaddish” and “Song for Andrew,” with Frisell’s guitar alternately cutting and billowing, the edge evoking some of his most illustrious past ECM performances. There are three atmospheric compositions by the band together – including dynamic soundscape “Dazzling (Perchordally Yours),” which highlights Cyrille’s distinctive sense of percussive drama.
Cyrille appeared on classic ECM and Watt LPs by the likes of Marion Brown, Carla Bley and the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, but The Declaration of Musical Independence puts a deserved spotlight on this master of rhythm, a disciple of drum idol Philly Joe Jones and an inspiration to subsequent generations of jazz drummers. Summing up Cyrille’s art, Modern Drummer magazine has said: “Jazz historians would point out that his free and abstract playing with Cecil Taylor shattered conventions of timekeeping and helped redefine the rhythms of modern jazz. But the diverse body of work that he’s amassed over his long career – which he continues to build upon with each new and intriguing project – proves that he’s always been most concerned with dealing with the now.”
The sessions for his ECM album – held in Brooklyn, NY, where Cyrille was born in 1939 – “were a whole lot of fun,” the drummer says. Although the studio was the first place where the quartet came together as a unit, Cyrille had links to each of the musicians. He previously recorded with Frisell in a session led by Danish guitarist Jakob Bro, and the drummer has recorded three albums with Street and another Dane, pianist Søren Kjaergaard. With Teitelbaum – who was born in the same year as Cyrille – the drummer has had an association in concert and on record since the 1970s, both in Europe and the U.S.
“It’s always exciting to collaborate with world-class musicians and that’s what these guys are,” Cyrille says. “Take the first track on the album, ‘Coltrane Time’ – that’s a rhythm that I learned from Rashied Ali, who learned it from Coltrane himself, of course. I love that rhythm, and I’m doing my own variation on it. The guys in this quartet were listening to me play it, and then as we started playing together, the four of us were really listening to each other – and enjoying it. That’s the way you make music.”
About what inspired him to put together this lineup, Cyrille adds: “I dig Bill’s lyricism, his rhythmic sense and that signature sound of his – it’s as unique as his signature. Ben has got great ears, and I like his sound. Besides that, he’s just so congenial to be around – he loves playing music. And not too many people play the synthesizer like Richard. We’ve always been able to complement each other, finding a place in each other’s sound. I wanted this album to be a true quartet project, where each of us had a piece of the record, in every sense. I wanted everyone to contribute music, everyone to give of themselves.”
The New York Times has called Cyrille an “avant-garde eminence,” praising his bone-deep knowledge of not only vintage jazz drumming but also pan-African rhythms – and noting how his “watchful, flowing pulse” has influenced so many of today’s most artful drummers. Reflecting on the way he goes about making music, Cyrille says: “Having started as a boy playing in the drum-and-bugle corps and later learning from greats like Max Roach and Mary Lou Williams and Philly Joe and Cecil, I’ve come to realize that the more you know, the more you have to say. I’ve been all over the world by now and played with so many different people that I’ve learned more and more about how to communicate with the drums. And that’s what it is all about: communication. Communing on a spiritual level in the studio or on the bandstand, no matter where the musicians come from, what they look like, what language they speak. It’s all about what you hear and feel. For this new ECM album – with tunes like ‘Sanctuary,’ ‘Manfred,’ all of them – we were doing a whole lot of listening and feeling.”