Across a dozen solo albums and in collaboration with Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, David Murray, Geri Allen and Charlie Haden, he has been one of several key players who freed the jazz drummer from the role of timekeeper, bringing a melodic sense and flowing pulse to the fore (play this loud for a taster).
His ECM debut The Declaration Of Musical Independence brings together a top-notch group of players – Bill Frisell on guitar, Ben Street on bass and Richard Teitelbaum on piano and keyboards. There are six pre-composed pieces and and three band improvisations. There’s even a previously unrecorded John Coltrane tune ‘Coltrane Time’, apparently based on a rhythm the saxophonist legend once taught drummer Rashied Ali.
Frisell unleashes some heavy slabs of sound on the Coltrane, a welcome bit of sonic dirt from the great guitarist and a return to such late-’80s treats as the Power Tools and Bass Desires albums. Cyrille’s opening unaccompanied snare missives proudly declare his own musical independence.
There’s an eerie, nursery-rhyme feel to Frisell’s ‘Kaddish’, with fly, fleeting bass clarinet samples and Cyrille’s whispering soft-stick accompaniment. Teitelbaum’s anxious, Monkish ‘Herky Jerky’ truncates a hell of a lot of written music into its three minutes, the playful themes distilled to their very essence. Nothing is wasted. Miles and Zawinul would approve.
The improvised tunes seem to float outside of time, especially the extraordinary ‘Dazzling’ featuring Cyrille’s playful woodblocks and the occasional Frisell power-chord which prods the players into a new section of collective improvisation. On ‘Sanctuary’, Teitelbaum’s metallic samples mesh with what sounds like a treated electric guitar.
Sometimes gentle but never cloying or sentimental, this is rich, ego-less music, a much-needed antidote to the desperate ‘listen to me, listen to me!’ nature of modern pop. Each track creates its own little world. Putting the album on for the first time, you’re instantly in a warm, spacious environment, but, like a good Kubrick movie, its secrets don’t give themselves up easily.
A great inlay card photo by Jesse Chun shows the four musicians in the control room at Brooklyn Recording, listening back to the fruits of their wares – their facial expressions make for a fascinating study in rapt attention and pleasant surprise, sensations shared by this listener.
The Declaration Of Musical Independence is out now on ECM.