As a vigorous purveyor of improvisational music for more than sixty years, drummer Andrew Cyrille has once again proved with his latest release, “The News”, that some of the more challenging music on offer from ECM can also be some of the most rewarding. Cyrille has played across the landscape of jazz, from Coleman Hawkins to Cecil Taylor and much more in between. He has performed and recorded with his own bands, including most recently ECM’s 2016 release “The Declaration of Musical Independence”, and has worked extensively with a whole host of artists including Milford Graves, David Murray, Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, and many, many more. Cyrille has enjoyed a creative relationship with ECM over the years, with his first appearance for the label dating back to 1970 on Marion Brown’s album with Chick Corea, Anthony Braxton, Bennie Maupin and Jeanne Lee.
Recorded in New Jersey in August 2019, “The News” features the excellent line-up of Cyrille on drums and voice, guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist David Virelles and bassist Ben Street. Cyrille has worked with Frisell on several occasions, most recently with his Lebroba Trio, which featured Frisell and Wadada Leo Smith, at Lincoln Center’s 50th birthday tribute to the ECM label. For this session though, pianist Virelles was drafted as last-minute replacement for old associate Richard Teitelbaum, whose involvement in the project had to be ruled out due to ill health. Having previously worked with Cyrille and bassist Ben Street in contexts including the group Continuum, Virelles was no stranger by any means to his fellow band-mates, and this is clear to hear with the intuitive interplay offered up from this quartet throughout the whole of this recording especially satisfying.
The impressive set performed on this release successfully blends the abstract and the atmospheric. Intertwined colours and textures combine with sparse melodies, conversational interplay, and in a way, a kind of dark romanticism. Cyrille reminds me of another drummer/composer/band-leader; the great Paul Motian, in the way that he drives and propels the music in an often quietly reflective way, yet still sharply focussed and powerful. The title track is perhaps the most abstract, conceptual piece on the recording. It revisits a piece that the drummer first recorded on a solo percussion album, “The Loop”, made for the Italian Ictus label in the late ’70s. Here a newspaper is placed over the snare drum and toms are played with brushes. In this quartet version, Frisell, Virelles and Street all impressionistically extend this concept, with rustling, whispering textures on their own instruments. An intriguing piece. Cyrille’s alluring “Leaving East of Jordan” and the beautiful “With You In Mind” are both pieces that have gone through diverse interpretations. I particularly like the way “With You In Mind” begins with Cyrille’s poetic spoken-word intro, and how the band amplifies his sentiments in such a tender and emotive way.
Guitarist Bill Frisell is in an inspired mood on this session. I’m a long-time admirer of Frisell, and the importance and influence of his pioneering musicianship cannot be underestimated. It’s easy to forget sometimes that Frisell practically invented the guitar sound that so many artists now use. But it’s obviously way more than that, it’s his innovative style and compelling technique when combined with such skilful craftsmanship as a writer and performer, that marks him out as a true great. He contributes three tunes to this session, and they must surely rank as some of his best in recent years. The opening tune “Mountain” benefits from some wonderful interaction from all four musicians, but especially between Frisell and Virelles, whose subtle and articulate interactions add a distinct warmth to the musical landscape being created. “Go Happy Lucky” is like a Frisell signature tune, evoking thoughts and memories with its bluesy abstractions. But my own personal favourite here is the simply beautiful “Baby”, a heartwarming, sensitive yet stunning piece of music.
It’s great to hear this quartet explore the music they make in such an open and expansive way. As a leader, Andrew Cyrille certainly seems to bring out the best elements of the musicians he chooses to work with, and the inspired performances on “The News” make it a worthy addition to anyone’s ECM collection.