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On his new quartet album, drummer Andrew Cyrille barely uses his legs. Instead of grounding the music with the kick drum’s stabilizing weight or the hi-hat’s metronomic grid, he sends it drifting; the snare head whispers and cymbals chime, forming constellations that suggest the movement styles of each piece without anchoring them within too firm of a pattern.
The News is Cyrille’s 21st album as a leader, and his leadership, too, is as subtle as ever. Compositions by the drummer and his session mates range from sunny blues (“Go Happy Lucky”) to abstract noise collage (the title track). Cyrille only fleetingly assumes the spotlight; his playing, spare and impressionistic, serves as a frame that perpetually disintegrates and reforms around the musical gestures of his cohort.
Guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Ben Street and pianist David Virelles (the group’s sole newcomer), play with an equal degree of patience and awareness. Frisell’s “Mountain” opens the record with a combination of a bang and a long sigh. His signature lyricism assumes a somber majesty as the band rolls and clatters through the chord melody, cycling through the lyrical twists like a free-time mantra. Chaos bleeds into the pattern until it comes apart completely, giving way to a phantasmagoric, shapeshifting piano solo. The bandleader accompanies Virelles into the depths with playing that is atmospheric yet decisive.
On “Incienso”, Cyrille leads with the opposite approach to the sporadic inventiveness that defines his playing on the rest of the album. He anchors the skulking, dissonant ballad by confining himself religiously to a rhythmic pattern that resembles a quiet version of the “We Will Rock You” beat. Changes in orchestration and articulation allow him to react to his bandmates, but he never once seeks to draw attention. Fifty years into his bandleading career, Cyrille seems to have fully conquered his ego.— Asher Wolf
Featured photo by A.T. Cimarosti.