To put it plainly, Cyrille is a living legend, having recorded with nearly everyone covered and beloved by this blog: Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams, Oliver Lake, Anthony Braxton, Borah Bergman, Peter Brötzmann, Irène Schweizer, Jimmy Lyons, Geri Allen, Marion Brown, David Murray, David S. Ware, and Marty Ehrlich. He also appeared on most of John Carter’s epic Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music (he’s on the ones I’ve, admittedly, never heard, because they were on Gramavision and remain out of print). Cyrille’s contributions to the history and development of free jazz simply can’t be overstated.
The quartet for Cyrille’s ECM debut is a slightly odd one, less reliant on musicians and instrumentations he’s worked with previously. While the drummer’s played for years with bassist Ben Street (as the symbiotic rhythm section of both Søren Kjærgaard’s piano trio and David Virelles’s Continuum band), the group is rounded out with Bill Frisell on guitar and Richard Teitelbaum on electronics and keyboards. Cyrille’s played in duos with both Frisell and Teitelbaum, but to my knowledge, this is the first time the two have recorded together.
The Declaration of Musical Independence is filled with lush, roomy compositions. Frisell and Teitelbaum bathe the album in sonic washes. Teitelbaum often fades in and out of the edges, taking an idea deep in Frisell’s chords and extending it into a vibrating countermelody. Street stays primarily in the background, providing a robust foundation for Frisell and Teitelbaum’s interplay. He periodically drops heavy notes in the middle of a languid group improvisation, as if to signal a reset or change in direction.
Cyrille, already a textural drummer and percussionist, has recorded dozens of compositions rich with improvisatory exploration, but this lineup takes everything he’s done and recasts it with airy textures and slow, abstract tempoes. There are no compositions credited solely to Cyrille. Instead, his songs’ credits—"Sanctuary," "Dazzling (Percchordally Yours)," and "Manfred"—are shared by all four musicians. In addition to these and the Coltrane cover that kicks things off, there are three from Frisell—"Kaddish," "Begin," and "Song for Andrew No. 1"—and one each from Street and Teitelbaum—"Say" and "Herky Jerky," respectively.
I’ve noticed I made a lot of notes about the spaciousness of this album, and it does float more gently than previous Cyrille albums. Maybe this is Cyrille in a melancholy mood. The songs are filled with longing and reflection, anchored by that unique sensitivity Cyrille brings to his playing. Although none of these tracks truly swing, that’s alright in the context of the album. It’s a muted declaration, but a radical statement of independence.