Andrew Cyrille’s The News takes its title from a highly abstract composition by the bandleader that began as a solo percussion piece on a 1970s album, but it could just as easily been named for another track here, “Dance Of The Nuances.” That one is a co-write with pianist David Virelles, part of the quartet on this date that was recorded in August 2019, pre-pandemic. For the most part, this release is nearly all nuance with very little in the way of straightforward statements, particularly in the disc’s latter half.
From beginnings in Brooklyn, Andrew Cyrille has been in the forefront of improvisation for more than 60 years, and this project is a continuation of sorts of a 2014 recording The Declaration of Musical Independence, seen as a late career revival by some critics. He joins here with three musicians of varying generations, all experienced at the kind of subtle vibe he’s going for here: Bill Frisell on guitar, Virelles on piano and synth, and Ben Street on double bass.
For a while it sounds almost like a Frisell album, as tracks 1 and 3 are by the guitarist. “Mountain” finds guitar and keyboard in freely melodic mode if that’s not a contradiction in terms, Frisell in his most languidly exploratory mode. “Go Happy Lucky” is a blues at heart with a deeply swinging groove from bassist Street, its parameters hinted at by Cyrille’s abstract drumming – Virelles laying down sometimes dissonant piano chords under Frisell’s country-ish melody. Between those two is the tropical feeling “Leaving East Of Java” by pianist Adegoke Steve Colson, an avant garde free jazz stalwart from Chicagos AACM. Again Street provides the connective tissue between the piano-guitar duet on a tender melody, and Cyrille’s shimmery rhythms. And Street dtives the slowly increasing tempo until the whole thing is eventually pounding down the tracks like a runaway train.
After that it’s nearly all nuance, and to me it seems to sag a bit. On the title track Cyrille places newspaper over the drumheads and plays with brushes and the others, starting with Virelles, “all impressionistically extend its rustling, whispering textures on their own instruments,” as the onesheet puts it. It sounds like the score of a suspense/horror film. Virelles’ tune “Incienso,” next up, is more slow, quiet improv. “Baby,” Frisell’s third and final entry to the program, is all languid Americana jazz, the guitarist playing a sweet tune accompanied by Virelles’ sighing synthesizer. It wraps up on a somewhat upbeat note, emotionally if not in tempo, Cyrille’s spoken word love poem “With You In Mind,” which the band follows with their tender interpretation of the sentiment behind the words.
Throughout the program Cyrille’s stickwork, particularly on cymbals, is mesmerizing. The sort of control and focus this type of music requires of all the players can’t be overstated. Undoubtedly I’d find it enthralling live in a club or theater setting, but much of it doesn’t quite gel for me as a recording.