Sunday, January 29, 2012

Percussion Masters + New Music from Underground

Drummer Andrew Cyrille has had a long and impressive career.  A Brooklyn, NY, native (his parents came from Haiti), he made his first recordings in 1961 with Coleman Hawkins and vibraphonist Walt Dickerson.  Since then, he has worked with pianist Cecil Taylor, clarinet master John Carter, saxophonist Oliver Lake as well as making numerous recordings as a leader or co-leader. Cyrille has been involved in education for nearly 4 decades.

His latest CD, "Andrew Cyrille & Haitian Fascination: Route de Freres" (TUM Records), was recorded in December of 2005 with a group featuring bassist Lisle Atkinson, acoustic guitarist Alix "Tit" Pascal, percussionist Frisner Augustin and baritone saxophonist Hamiett Bluiett. The presence of Pascal and Augustin, both natives of Haiti, gives the music a softer edge while Bluiett's expressive baritone adds depth.  Atkinson is the "glue" while Cyrille lights the fire under the songs. On several of the pieces ("Route de Freres, Part 1 - Hills of Anjubeau" and "Isaura"), his floor tom work reminds this listener of Ed Blackwell's later work.  It's fun to heard him play so "in the pocket" on "Route de Freres, Part 3 - Manhattan Swing", adding pithy fills beneath Pascal's guitar solo.  The interplay of Pascal's guitar, Atkinson's bowed bass and Bluiett's squalling baritone on "Sankofa" contains the "freest" playing on the program. Pascal, who recorded with Cyrille in the 1990s, blends Caribbean and South American influences into his playing, especially his wonderful background work (many times, his playing is as rhythmic as the drummers) and his solo lines are quite articulate. 

"Route de Freres" may surprise listeners who are used to the more high-energy work of Andrew Cyrille.  Much of this music "sings" with the joy of creative freedom, contains the genuine warmth one feels when encountering a native of Haiti, an island nation that has suffered many indignities (both natural and man-made) since winning its freedom from France in 1804.  For more information about Andrew Cyrille and this group, go to

Jack DeJohnette, a newly minted NEA Jazz Master, has been a mainstay on the creative music for nearly 5 decades.  He's played on numerous ECM recordings, ranging from duets and trio settings with Keith Jarrett to the Gateway Trio with John Abercrombie and Dave Holland to his own projects.  DeJohnette has also recorded for Milestone, Impulse and on his own Golden Beam Productions.  Not only is he a master drummer but also a fine pianist and his latest recording, "Sound Travels" (E1 Records) turns the spotlight on those aspects on his talents as well as his compositional skills. 
DeJohnette and producer Robert Sadin have assembled a fine (and fairly youthful) band including bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, percussionist Luisito Quintero, guitarist Lionel Loueke and veteran (relatively speaking) saxophonist Tim Ries.  Guests include Bruce Hornsby, Bobby McFerrin and Jason Moran, each appearing on one track apiece.

On the surface, this is not the "high energy" DeJohnette one has heard on countless recordings; instead, it's a joyous and joy-filled smorgasbord of sounds that literally dances out of the speakers.  The program opens on a meditative note with "Enter Here", a quiet tune featuring just gentle piano figures and resonating bells.  Then, it's right into "Salsa for Luisito", with percussive guitar lines, Spalding's sensuous wordless vocals, and Quintero's responsive drum work.  Hornsby, who employed DeJohnette and bassist Christian McBride for his 2007 "Camp Meeting" piano trio CD, adds his expressive vocals to the soul-drenched "Dirty Ground", replete with the funkiest guitar one has ever heard from Loueke. Many of the pieces have a distinct Latin feel (Quintero is on all but 3 of the 9 tracks) - Moran joins the band on "Indigo Dreamscapes" which features a long and passionate tenor
solo from Ries.  McFerrin appears alongside DeJohnette (piano) and Quintero on "Oneness", a lovely
song with rich piano melodies and a charming expressive wordless vocal. The program closes with "Home", a work with well-defined gospel roots and a sweet, soft, fade.

As Jack DeJohnette enters his 8th decade (he turns 70 in August of this year), his music continues to deepen, exposing more of his soulful expressions and lilting rhythms. Yes, there are other projects on which he drives relentlessly but "Sound Travels" delights at every turn with pure melodic intent (and gently stoked "fire" from the rhythm section.)  To find out more, go to

March 13 sees a new recording from the Chicago Underground Duo.  CUD - Chad Taylor (drums, percussion, electronics) and Rob Mazurek (cornet, electronics, voice) - has been a unit since 1997, sometimes a trio or a quartet but always with Taylor and Mazurek.  Their music ranges from free improvisation to drones to forays into electronic soundscapes to soft ballads with a creative interplay that defies categorization.
Here's a track from the upcoming Chicago Underground Duo CD, courtesy of Northern Spy and Soundcloud:

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