Monday, September 26, 2016

Andrew Cyrille Makes his ECM Leader Debut

This past Friday ECM released a new recording on which jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille appeared as leader for the first time. The other members of the group, known collectively as the Andrew Cyrille Quartet (what else?) are Bill Frisell on guitar, Ben Street on bass, and Richard Teitelbaum on both synthesizer and piano. The title of the album is The Declaration of Musical Independence, which seems to be justified by Street’s booklet notes.

Street’s essay begins with the following sentence:
As the 21st century began, Elliott Carter strongly indicted the musical world of the 20th, pointing out that we had become enmeshed completely and needlessly in steady, even time signatures deriving from military applications, to the exclusion of any other understanding of musical flow.
With all due respect to a composer whose innovative contributions to the concert repertoire cannot be overestimated, I must express a certain amount of regret that Carter never pried himself out of those concert halls to check out some of “farthest-out” jazz clubs in Manhattan. To choose just one example that is particularly relevant to this new recording, I find it impossible to believe that Carter would have made such a sweeping generalization had he put some time into listening to Cecil Taylor.

I first came to recognize Cyrille’s name through his work with Taylor; and, since the beginning of this decade, I have been following with great interest his contributions to the Trio 3 collective, in which he performs with Oliver Lake on saxophone and Reggie Workman on bass. Come to think of it, I would guess that Carter was not aware of at least one other member of Cyrille’s new quartet. Had he been bold enough to expose himself to the world of live electronic music that was brewing back in the Sixties, he might have encountered Musica Elettronica Viva, which Teitelbaum co-founded along with Alvin Curran and Frederic Rzewski. Teitelbaum was also a sideman for some of the pioneering recordings that Anthony Braxton made on the Arista label, where Teitelbaum himself pioneered the practice of jamming on a Moog synthesizer, rather than using it to make tape music. These diverse backgrounds all add up to the proposition that, if the title of the album refers to independence from the “even time signatures” that Carter cited, then independence had already been declared about half a century before this new album was released!

Mind you, such an extensive historical legacy does not, in any way, detract from the experience of listening to this new album. If anything, it enhances it. Just as Anton Webern lectured on how the “new music” that he was making, as well as that of his teacher Arnold Schoenberg, could be traced back to past music-making practices, the music-making practices captured on The Declaration of Musical Independence can be traced back for even more than half a century, at least as far back as the sources that were influencing Thelonious Monk, many of whom are given generous discussion in Robin D. G. Kelly’s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original.

In all fairness it should be observed that all four members of the quartet participated in the composition of one or more of eight of the nine tracks on this recording. The opening track, “Coltrane Time,” is described by Cyrille as “a piece written by John Coltrane that he never recorded.” However, Coltrane’s drummer Rashied Ali learned it and taught it to Milton Graves, who shared it with Cyrille when they recorded the Dialogue of the Drums album. This is a perfect example of what can happen when a drummer has the courage to depart from a steady beat; and, because Coltrane died in 1967, we really are talking about Carter having missed out on things about half a century before he put his discontent into words!

Nevertheless, the title “Coltrane Time” may confuse some serious jazz mavens. Coltrane Time is actually the name of a United Artists Records Coltrane album that was originally issued under Taylor’s name as Hard Driving Jazz in mono and Stereo Drive in stereo. There is now a Hard Driving Jazz CD with the four tracks that Coltrane recorded with Taylor’s quartet (before Cyrille was playing with Taylor), along with six “bonus” tracks. Coltrane is not credited as having composed any of those four tracks. Two are standards, one is by Kenny Dorham, and one is by Chuck Israels. However, the “Coltrane Time” that Cyrille performs has more to do with Coltrane’s interest in the complex rhythms of Indian music than with the “free” rhythms that Taylor was exploring.

One of the compositions that is overlooked by the booklet notes deserves some attention, Bill Frisell’s “Kaddish.” This is based on a major multimedia interpretation of Allen Ginsberg’s poem of the same name, which I saw at the SFJAZZ Center in April of 2013. By all rights this counts as chamber music for which Frisell conducted an ensemble consisting of Ron Miles on trumpet, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Doug Wieselman on clarinet and bass clarinet, Jenny Scheinman on violin, Hank Roberts on cello, Kenny Wollensen on drums, and Robin Holcomb on piano, doubling as vocalist. There were also two actors, Hal Willner as “Ginsberg’s voice” and Chloe Webb reading quoted passages of Ginsberg’s dying mother Naomi.

This piece probably has the steadiest rhythm of the album. It is basically a guitar solo that, like the Kaddish prayer itself, amounts to an incantation of mourning. Street provides what (in the spirit of the original chamber music conception of the composition) amounts to a continuo; and, as the piece progresses, Teitelbaum uses a synthesizer to color the texture, but only slightly so. Cyrille is present only in a few low rumblings. This basically works as a highly distilled recollection of what had initially been a far grander musical conception. While that distillation does little to evoke Ginsberg’s poetry, it is almost painfully effective as an “alternative incantation” of the Kaddish prayer.

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