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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Andrew Cyrille and Bill McHenry – Proximity (Sunnyside, 2016) ***½

It is rather amazing to comprehend Andrew Cyrille’s longevity as an artist—someone whose productivity over the last couple decades easily rivals that of his prime, when he was making his mark with Cecil Taylor in the 60s and 70s or confirming his legacy with so many superb Black Saint/Soul Note recordings during the 80s and 90s.  One only has to hear the music he’s made recently with the similarly ageless Oliver Lake and Reggie Workman in Trio 3 to know that he’s still got plenty left in the tank.  And that’s good news indeed.

What’s particularly noteworthy about Cyrille is his relentless exploration: his desire to continue evolving and trying out new approaches to his instrument.  As a drummer, Cyrille can certainly bring the heat, but he often seems most content when he’s simply a colorist, offering subtle commentary and pared-down rhythmic structures rather than explosive bombast.  This is evident on his latest ECM release, Declaration of Musical Independence, as well as this duo outing with tenorist Bill McHenry.  Although McHenry is the youngster in Cyrille’s company, the two have recorded previously.  They released a record years ago on Fresh Sound New Talent with Henry Grimes (Us Free), and a live recording from 2012 (La Peur du Vide) on Sunnyside with pianist Orrin Evans and bassist Eric Revis.  On this record, recently following a live duo performance at the Village Vanguard, McHenry and Cyrille were compelled to go into the studio to document the results of their partnership.

The results are quite enjoyable overall, as the two musicians clearly have a mutual affinity.  McHenry’s warm, inviting tone on the tenor is perfect for the spare, haunting “Bedouin Woman,” which opens the record.  Over Cyrille’s quiet mallets on just a couple of toms on his kit, McHenry puts his touch on a track clearly inspired by the spiritual searching of late-period Coltrane.  Cyrille continues his avoidance of the cymbals on the next couple tracks, using just the drums to tease out melodic phrases on “Fabula” and “Drum Song for Leadbelly,” and in response McHenry offers jaunty phrases of his own.  Later on the record, though, on tracks like “Let Me Tell You This,” or “Drum Man Cyrille,” the two musicians break free of the tempered constraints of the earlier cuts and the music becomes much more exhilarating, with McHenry’s soaring flights and tempestuous flurries of notes met by Cyrille’s equally spirited contributions.

At only 38 minutes or so, the record does feel too brief, as it’s clear these two have a lot to say!  But since Cyrille shows no signs of slowing his pace, I’m sure they’ll find opportunities in the future to continue their collaboration.