Andrew Cyrille Quartet at the Village Vanguard 3/29/18 (by Dan Lehner)

PERSONNEL: Andrew Cyrille (drums), Ben Street (bass), Bill Frisell (guitar), Richard Teitelbaum (synthesizer, laptop, piano)

SET LIST: Dazzling (Perchordially Yours) (Cyrille); Proximity (Cyrille); Brl Itz (Street), Variations and Silence (Teitelbaum), The Painter (Hemphill), With You in Mind (Cyrille), Special People (Cyrille)

HIGHLIGHTS: Cyrille demonstrated the power of a single cymbal hit on his solo in “Dazzling (Perchordially Yours), where attack and decay delivered emotion and compositional logic.

Of all the laudatory things you could say about Andrew Cyrille’s week at the Vanguard, it was perhaps his unique approach to ensemble casting that stood above all else. Who else but Cyrille would have the foresight to unify Bill Frisell (who was on his third week in a row at the Vanguard), with someone like Richard Teitelbaum, an electronic musician veteran from the early Moog days who’s virtually unknown in the jazz world? What other 78-year old drummer would (or even could) hire musicians using looping stations and Ableton Live laptop interfaces at one of the world’s most illustrious jazz clubs?

The quartet, formed for a fantastic ECM release in 2016, lent historical perspective to Cyrille’s unique position in the avant-garde, one that has both a deep history and something profound to say for the present.

The quartet’s diverse repertoire allowed Cyrille to perform as instigator, colorist and independent explorer, sometimes just shading between his band mates motions and sometimes punching with crackling energy and clear intent. Cyrille’s solo moments understood the importance of a sound’s decay, his solo on “Dazzling” limiting itself to the meditative, gong-like resonance of a single cymbal controlled by his mature, poetic sense of time of free time. Cyrille could be painterly and spare, but also very playful, his Caribbean roots showing in his galloping, bell-and-block oriented intros.

The music often breathed in episodic ways. “Dazzling” frequently rested and rearranged itself between solos and duos, in a way that the new temporal and musical information felt neatly arranged, rather than broken apart (recalling Joe Lovano’s observation that “all the tempos are one tempo” in Cyrille’s music). Teitelbaum’s spare, conceptual “Variations and Silence” commented not only on space and timbre but also the realness of each sound, a three-way dance between the wholly existent sounds of the drum and bass, the semi-real sounds of Frisell’s effects-laden guitar and the purely synthetic sounds of processed didgeridoos and violin concertos from Teitelbaum’s Ableton patches.

For all its experimentation, the music was often extremely listenable. Cyrille’s elegiac “Proximity” was wistful and resolute, buoyed by Street’s supportive but musically free directional sense, anchored with his gorgeous and direct tone. Street’s “Brl Itz”, a wry, scuffling 3/4 piece, was imbued with a rock ‘n roll shot of energy from Cyrille, moving from freewheeling drum ‘n bass snares deftly back to the rhythm of the melody. Teitelbaum’s synth had a fascinating palette, ranging from dainty flute sounds to detuned horror movie pieces, but his piano playing was just as compelling, saving his colorful, Cecil-Taylor-meets-Gyorgy-Ligeti sensibility for one tune only. Frisell, always a master of the amicable wrapped in the experimental, dragged the bluesy melody of Cyrille’s “Special People” through a glittering array of echoes and delays, brilliantly moving out of the woods to collide with his band mates for one last triumphant melody to close a rejuvenating and probing set of music.

by Dan Lehner