ECM Records ECM 2681
At age 81, jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille continues to make music. He’s not just coasting, either. The News, his third release for ECM Records, is challenging and fresh. Guitarist Bill Frisell plays on the album, as he did on Cyrille’s other ECM discs, The Declaration of Musical Independence (2016) and Lebroba (2018). Bassist Ben Street and pianist David Virelles complete the quartet for this album. Street was a member of the quartet on The Declaration of Musical Independence, and Virelles co-led a session, Continuum, with Cyrille in 2010.
“Mountain,” a Frisell composition, opens The News at an unhurried pace, with Frisell playing single notes and intervals against Virelles’s shifting chords and Street’s subtly moving bass lines. The song unfolds calmly. Cyrille fills the spaces with cymbal accents and light taps on the drums; prodding, moving the song forward, and adding color and texture—especially during the Virelles’s solo, which moves deftly between upbeat melodies and somewhat darker musical statements.
Cyrille wrote the title track, which opens with him playing skittering brush strokes on the snare against Street’s arco bass lines. Cyrille uses other percussive techniques, enhanced by the newspapers he had draped over his drums, as Frisell begins to fill the space with muted, fractured notes against Virelles’s sound clusters on piano. Virelles adds chords on synthesizer that ebb and flow throughout the tune, and some of his piano lines have been doctored to create distortion, which adds to the ominous, sometimes overwhelming power of the piece. “The News” aptly captures the anxiety and dread of living in a world in constant media overdrive—and it’s a piece Cyrille first performed, solo, in the 1970s.
Cyrille’s pulsing drums give Virelles’s “Incienso” shape, allowing the pianist to let his chords hang in space and follow their own logic as he plays a compelling and beautiful melody. Frisell fills in behind with chords and octave runs, while Street darts around the other three musicians with understated but firmly played lines. Frisell’s “Baby” shimmers with the guitarist’s brightly presented arpeggios against a rhythmically elastic bass line from Street. Cyrille’s precise brush strokes and well placed, lightly played cymbal work lift an already memorable tune into the transcendent.
“Dance of the Nuances,” cowritten by Cyrille and Virelles, is an atmospheric piece, with Virelles using the low register on the piano to create tension and intensity. Cyrille’s snare work helps underline the edginess of Virelles’s moody piano lines. Cyrille reads a poem to introduce “With You in Mind,” a tune he recorded with Henry Grimes and Bill McHenry in 2006. That version also featured a reading by Cyrille, but it was interspersed with saxophone lines by McHenry. Here, Cyrille reads the poem in full, and the band then enters, playing the romantic ballad with passion and grace.
The quartet recorded The News at Sound on Sound Studios in Montclair, New Jersey, and the disc is consistent with ECM’s production standards—clean and detailed enough to catch every nuance of Cyrille’s cymbals and drums, the dynamics of the piano, and the potent low notes on Street’s bass. Frisell’s sparkling guitar lines sustain beautifully throughout the recording.
The News achieves a smart balance of melodic accessibility and avant-garde experimentation. Frisell appears on so many recordings that he could be in danger of overexposure, but he constantly finds new things to say. Even if Frisell wanted to take it easy, though, Cyrille is here to make him, Virelles, and Street avoid the obvious and push into unique modes of expression. Andrew Cyrille is a musician of rare vision.
. . . Joseph Taylor