On Easter Sunday (4/1), the Andrew Cyrille Quartet ended a five-night run at the legendary Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village.  Playing two sold-out sets a night for five nights certainly gave the group plenty of time to hone their live performance.

Cyrille is a 78-year-old avant-garde drummer that got his start in 1964, at just 18 years old, playing with the groundbreaking and infamous Cecil Taylor Unit, appearing on some of Taylor’s finest recordings. He has over 30 albums recorded under his name but many more as a sideman on recordings by Geri Allen, David Murray, Oliver Lake, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, Anthony Braxton, Horace Tapscott, and many others.

Cyrille has always surrounded and associated himself with astounding artists and his latest album, the excellent The Declaration of Musical Independence on ECM, is no different. It was this band that he brought to the Village Vanguard: the versatile and always amazing Bill Frisell on guitar; Ben Street, a highly in-demand free jazz bassist that is drumming great Billy Hart’s go to bassist for his quartets; and the amazing Richard Teitelbaum (also 78-years-old), a fantastic electronic musician known for bringing the first Moog Synthesizer to Europe as well as being a founding member of the seminal electronic music group Musica Elettronica Viva.

The set opened with a spectacular version of "Special People," the title track from Cyrille’s 1980 release on the extraordinary Italian label, Black Saint/Soul Note. It was clear from the get go that Cyrille still had the light but powerful and authoritative touch that he has always been known for. Few drummers can play with the grace and flair that Cyrille has. The band was right there with him as Teitelbaum laid down an electronic base for the band to soar on top of.

The second song was drawn from The Declaration of Musical Independence, "Dazzling (Perchordally Yours)." This is one of the strongest tracks from an excellent recording that has been typical for Cyrille lately as he has gone through a late-career renaissance of sorts. Oddly, it was the only song performed from this album. The quartet then performed the title track from Cyrille’s 2016 collaboration with Bill McHenry, Proximity. The band was precise and intuitive and watched each other carefully and often with smiles.

The quartet continued with a Ben Street composition, "Burl Itz," which really shined a light on the bassist’s extraordinary talent. But it was with the next song that things got highly unusual for a “jazz” band, Teitelbaum’s composition "Varied Silence" incorporated weird electronics with what sounded almost like WWI news reports that even drew a few comments and laughs from Cyrille when done. The band continued with a magnificent performance of Julius Hemphill’s "The Painter" which featured Teitelbaum’s wonderful piano playing.

Between each song Cyrille stood and talked to the audience, telling great stories about his past and explaining what the songs were about, often with humor. He read a beautiful poem he wrote titled "With You in Mind" which led into a performance of the song of the same name.

The last song in the 90-minute set was "Seventh for Max Roach," which opened with a whimsical and humorous drum solo from Cyrille, incorporating lots of cowbell and playing on the sides of his drum kit and his stool cushion. The song got progressively more avant-garde and culminated in Teitelbaum taking it off the rails on piano much to the delight of the onlooking and broadly smiling Bill Frisell and audience. An absolutely brilliant end to a wonderful performance.

Pictures from the show are in the gallery above, and setlist is below.

Special People
Dazzling (Perchordally Yours)
Burl Itz
Varied Silence
The Painter
With You in Mind
Seventh for Max Roach


words and photos by Greg Cristman

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