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A retrospective anthology of drummer Andrew Cyrille

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Those familiar with the name of Andrew Cyrille probably know him best for his work with the Cecil Taylor Unit. This was formed in 1961 by Taylor as a platform for his adventurous experiments in free jazz as a result of his frequent collaborations with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons. The only other core member was drummer Sunny Murray, who was replaced by Cyrille in 1964. (Taylor would subsequently add personnel for the performance of specific compositions.)

Earlier this month, the latest anthology of remastered recordings on Black Saint and Soul Note produced by Giovanni Bonandrini, distributed by CAM London, was released. It is a set of seven albums for which Cyrille served as leader, recorded on either Black Saint or Soul Note between 1978 and 1995. Lyons appears on two of these CDs, one of which consists entirely of duo tracks for the two musicians that run the gamut from Lyons at his most adventurous in pieces like “Lorry” to an account of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” that never loses touch with the tune but certainly takes it in interesting directions. (Both of these tracks were recorded in 1981 in front of an audience at Soundscape in New York.) Other collaborators include the members of a trio called Maono (Ted Daniel on trumpet, Nick DiGeronimo on bass, and David S. Ware on tenor saxophone), as well as flutist James Newton.

While this is a generous supply of recordings, it is a bit disappointing for its paucity of particularly compelling drum work. This is not to suggest that Cyrille has relegated himself to the background; but I felt that, only on the tracks from the October 1995 sessions at Mu Rec Studio in Milan that led to the album Good to go, with a Tribute to Bu, does Cyrille really cut loose with the sort of riffs that had fit in so well in his work with the Cecil Taylor Unit. There is also the usual problem that arises with all of these compilations of Bonandrini productions, which is the paucity of useful information. Three of the CDs have reproductions of the original album designs, but the text on the back is illegible without a magnifying glass whose power at least matches that of the one that comes with The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. The other four give track listings, personnel, and recording dates and credits but do not even provide times for the individual tracks.

When I wrote about the Anthony Braxton anthology in this series, I focused on how, with contemporaries such as John Cage and Iannis Xenakis, Braxton had managed to develop and pursue his own characteristically individual ideas about “creative music.” There is no question that these recordings similarly present Cyrille’s own take on creativity. In this case, however, the listener could do with a bit of guidance regarding the nature of that creativity and the extent to which Cecil Taylor was only one of the sources.


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