Andrew Cyrille/William Parker/Enrico Rava: 2 Blues For Cecil

Even as streaming platforms gain an ever more forceful stranglehold on recorded music, savvy record companies can still deliver impactful physical products which could never be replicated in the digital space. Finnish label TUM are doing that in spades.

A key artefact is the recent album by Andrew Cyrille, William Parker and Enrico Rava, 2 Blues For Cecil. This whole CD package is a piece of art in its own right, with a striking Mondrian-inspired cover by Ahti Lavonen, detailed booklet, rich colour photos and extensive liner notes.

So you’d hope the music lives up to the packaging. It does. The drummer, bassist and flugelhornist are mainstays and masters of the New York improvised scene, the latter making his name in his native Italy during the mid-1960s before moving to the US at the end of that decade.

In the world of free/avant-garde/spontaneously-improvised ‘jazz’, it’s quite common for the players to burn from the first bar. See Coltrane, Ayler, Sanders, and the recipient of this album, pianist Cecil Taylor. But there’s another school, and this album is a classic example. There’s lots of space and the timbres are generally ‘unthreatening’. The result is one of those extremely rare ‘free jazz’ albums that you could play at a dinner party without scaring the guests.

Cyrille in particular seldom smacks his drums, instead teasing out all possible frequencies/overtones from a minimal kit. This is an album for cymbal-lovers. Rava doesn’t sound like anyone else: his playing is a lick-free zone. He has a pretty sound and produces an endless stream of good melodies. Parker delights in a ‘woody’, expressive tone, and only plays two notes if one definitely won’t do.

Four pieces on the album – two by Rava, two by Cyrille, one by Parker – were composed before time, the rest spontaneously improvised. The thrill is that it’s generally hard to tell the difference, though Rava’s ‘Ballerina’ features a catchy, Ornette Coleman-esque melody.

Reportedly Miles and Wayne Shorter would often speak about ‘trying to play music as if you’d never heard music before’ during the 1960s – 2 Blues For Cecil delivers on that promise. It takes courage from both musician and listener but the effort pays off.

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