Qasim Naqvi/Wadada Leo Smith/Andrew Cyrille: Two Centuries

Two Centuries is the second album from former ECM producer Sun Chung’s Red Hook label and may one day be regarded as its most defining release. As electronic musician Qasim Naqvi, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and drummer Andrew Cyrille put 11 of Naqvi’s tunes under their triangular microscope, the cells of our listening are magnified.

“For D.F.” opens with a political charge. Written for Darnella Frazier, who captured George Floyd’s murder, it uses distortions to evoke the white noise of our collective trauma. As subtle as this music is, with its near-comforting swells and honest lyricism, it offers not a moment of reflection but the reflection of a moment, a vivid gaze at a life lost on the brink of a society in turmoil. This is, perhaps, the deepest nuance of the titular centuries, the dividing line of which is drawn not numerically but on the shifting sands of justice.

What follows is a veritable tilling of melodies made possible as much through listening as playing. The foundation is often forged between Cyrille’s tools and Naqvi’s febrile choices of color. In fortifying each for harvest, they dip into disparate references. Hear, for example, the influence of Bryn Jones in “Sadden Upbeat,” while “Tympanic” recalls Sofia Gubaidulina’s String Quartet No. 4.

Contrasts in mood abound, ranging from sunlit (“Palaver”) to brooding (“Wraith”). “Bypass Decay” is of special note, chugging like a train against (and ultimately losing to) an encroaching night. Throughout, Smith speaks (e.g., “Spiritual is 150”) and sings (e.g., “Organum”) in equal measure, but always with a message to convey in the role of griot, reminding us of something spiritual, though severed from any particular tradition. As is evident in “Orion Ave,” where the free-floating hymn reigns supreme, faith walks these empty streets alone, trailing its shadow like a burden of care.

Andrew Cyrille Quartet: The News (ECM 2681)

Andrew Cyrille Quartet
The News

Andrew Cyrille drums
Bill Frisell guitar
David Virelles piano, synthesizer
Ben Street double bass
Recorded August 2019 at Sound on Sound, New Jersey
Engineer: Rick Kwan
Assistant engineer: Christopher Gold
Mastering: Christoph Stickel
Cover photo: Caterina Di Perri
Produced by Sun Chung
Release date: August 27, 2021

The News convenes drummer Andrew Cyrille, guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist David Virelles, and bassist Ben Street. One would never guess the ad hoc nature of the quartet (Virelles was a last-minute substitute for Richard Teitelbaum, who bowed out over illness) in light of the cohesions that abound from note one of “Mountain.” Its compassionate declarations describe a peak of sub-equatorial verdancy. Awaiting us at the top is not snow but a clear and sunlit promontory from which to gaze upon the path we are about to follow in subsequent tracks. This is also the first of three tunes by Frisell, whose “Go Happy Lucky” is rendered as an object of dark fascination in Virelles’s pianism, leaving “Baby” to shine for its continuity. As the epitome of this band’s approach to time and space, it glistens with the purity of a virgin spring.

The title track by Cyrille dates back to the late 1970s and involves a newspaper-covered snare drum with rhizomatic touches from his bandmates. This brilliant turn hints at melody but sidesteps the commonality of expectation for the rewards of each unraveling moment. The bandleader further offers his balladic “With You in Mind,” which opens in spoken word. This sets up a late-night feeling from piano and bass, then shifts into Frisell’s meticulous speech-songs as warm organ undercurrents embody a respiration of the soul. Cyrille and Virelles detach in the improvised “Dance of the Nuances,” a delicate web of communication.

Where the pianist thinks outside the box in his playing, he shows restraint in the original “Incienso.” Along with “Leaving East of Java” (by AACM advocate Adegoke Steve Colson), it paints with flowers. In the latter, Cyrille’s cymbals work itinerant wonders as Street’s bass holds a steady watch in the background.

This production from Sun Chung (who has since left ECM to start Red Hook Records) is a masterclass in how jazz should sound when left to define a space. The recording is shaped by the languages we hear, translated out of—and back into—a universal tongue and the great equalizer of all things: nothing less than music itself.

Andrew Cyrille: Lebroba (ECM 2589)


Andrew Cyrille

Wadada Leo Smith trumpet
Bill Frisell guitar
Andrew Cyrille drums
Recorded July 2017 at Reservoir Studios, New York
Engineer: Rick Kwan
Produced by Sun Chung
Release date: November 2, 2018

When drummer Andrew Cyrille broke tension with The Declaration of Musical Independence in 2016, the universe seemed to beg for more. And so, with producer Sun Chung at the helm, he stepped into the studio again, this time retaining guitarist Bill Frisell and adding only trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith to the mix. Then again, “mix” is far from the appropriate word here, as the trio unifies under the influence of processes far beyond the stirring of some proverbial pot would imply.

Among the many excitations of Lebroba is the fact that it marks the first occasion for Frisell and Smith to record together. “Worried Woman” almost makes one lament this fact, as the two are clearly suited for each other, especially when bonded by Cyrille’s chemical reactions. This opening tune, written by the guitarist, is architected as preface to Smith’s four-part tribute to Alice Coltrane. Taking her spiritual presence as inspiration, and prompting the musicians via both graphic scores and standard notation, he leads as comfortably as he recedes, pushing terrain beneath him as an earthly treadmill. Frisell and Cyrille, meanwhile, deepen their cosmic relationship without the merest flicker of predetermination, opting instead for a freer correspondence within boundaries before breaking down the set to drums alone: a master class in psychosomatic response.

The bandleader’s title track, a fractured blues for the 21st century, reveals its treasures just enough to sense their shine yet without letting on the nature of their constitution. As in his “Pretty Beauty,” which ends things as they began, it erases as many words as it writes across a palimpsest of self-awareness. Between them is the spontaneously created “TGD,” which sounds like the autopsy of a laser gun performed by someone who’s taught the procedure a thousand times before. Its forensic qualities are superseded only by an overwhelming delicacy of intuition, which now more than ever touches the ears with unerring relevance.

Andrew Cyrille Quartet: The Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM 2430)

The Declaration of Musical Independence

Andrew Cyrille Quartet
The Declaration of Musical Independence

Bill Frisell guitar
Richard Teitelbaum synthesizer, piano
Ben Street double bass
Andrew Cyrille drums, percussion
Recorded July 2014 at Brooklyn Recording
Engineer: Rick Kwan
Mixing engineer: Rick Kwan
Produced by Sun Chung
Release date: September 23, 2016

The Declaration of Musical Independence is more than drummer Andrew Cyrille’s ECM leader debut. It’s a veritable document thrown into the living waters of jazz history. Eschewing expectations by means of the very kit that courts them, he welcomes guitarist Bill Frisell, keyboardist Richard Teitelbaum, and bassist Ben Street for a faithful reading of his emergent articles.

Article 1: Centeredness is a Way of Life

John Coltrane’s “Coltrane Time” is match-lit helium in slow motion, treating the core as spinal. Cyrille sets the stage with his playful take on this Trane rhythm, threading it like a bead along invisible wire. Invisible, that is, until Frisell’s distortions flower like a tree of nerve impulses drawn with an anatomist’s attention to detail. It’s a feeling carried over in the guitarist’s own “Kaddish,” which by quiet dint turns brainwaves into melody.

Article 2: Understanding the Moment Means Understanding Each Other

This tenet is unquenchably expressed in three freer excursions. Where “Sanctuary” and “Manfred” look simultaneously within and without in order to braid connections of molecular value, “Dazzling (Percchordally Yours)” takes Cyrille’s own chordal suggestions as cues for spontaneous composition. Here, Teitelbaum’s textural approach to the synthesizer possesses the studio like a ghost in search of bodies through which to voice messages from some great beyond, only to end up the other way around: with instruments piercing its translucent skin by grace of sonic needlepoint.

Article 3: Treat Echoes Not as Symptoms but as Causes

Ben Street’s “Say” is the album’s one dose of symmetry. A riveting combination of liquid guitar, fulcrumed bassing, and drums so anciently brushed they feel like cave drawings, it eats resonance as if survival were otherwise impossible. Teitelbaum likewise divides his own “Herky Jerky” along bipartisan lines, engendering a rougher blush of purpose.

Article 4: Look Back to Listen Forward

The remaining pieces, both by Frisell, speak to this truth most deeply. Whether in the solo dream that is “Begin” or the concluding quartet of “Song for Andrew No. 1,” a philosophy of continuity prevails, drinking air like water, and filling producer Sun Chung’s masterful cast with diurnal plaster. All of which makes for one of the profoundest statements to fall under ECM’s purview in years.

Marion Brown: Afternoon Of A Georgia Faun (ECM 1004)


Marion Brown
Afternoon Of A Georgia Faun

Marion Brown alto saxophone, zomari, percussion
Anthony Braxton alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, contrabass clarinet, Chinese musette, flute, percussion
Bennie Maupin tenor saxophone, alto flute, bass clarinet, acorn, bells, wooden flute, percussion
Chick Corea piano, bells, gong, percussion
Andrew Cyrille percussion
Jeanne Lee voice, percussion
Jack Gregg bass, percussion
Gayle Palmoré voice, piano, percussion
William Green top o’lin, percussion
Billy Malone African drum
Larry Curtis percussion
Recorded August 10, 1970 at Sound Ideas Studio, New York City
Engineer: George Klabin
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: November 15, 1971

A subtle congregation of clicks, pops, breaths, and whistles eases us into this challenging yet rewarding recording from a mobile group of musicians, many of whom—Jeanne Lee, Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea, Bennie Maupin, and Marion Brown himself—are now household names in the avant-garde circuit. Over 35 minutes we are treated to a distilled experience that jumps, flies, and slithers its way through a forest of sounds. The arrangements are heavy on reeds and percussion, with star turns from one severely abused piano and a smattering of aphasic human voices who seem bent on reducing all communication to wit and circumstance. The music is indeterminate and uncompromising and unleashes its full torrent only in the second movement, “Djinji’s Corner.” Slide whistles, snares, and bass join in the cacophony as a voice intones, “Listen to me. Can you hear?”—at last giving us some vocabulary to latch on to as we suffocate under a voracious avalanche.

Original cover

Not an album for the faint of heart, Afternoon is indicative of the brave decisions ECM was already making on its fourth release, and on it one begins to hear inklings of the space for which ECM would soon come to be known. It is also meticulously recorded. Every detail comes through (for example, when a percussionist picks up bell and rings it, we clearly hear it being returned to a cloth-dampened surface). Describing the sound of this album is, I imagine, as difficult as it was to lay it down in the studio. The sheer range of implied space is impressive, made all the more so for its organic textures. A masterpiece of free jazz and well worth the chance for the adventurous listener.

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