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The complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note
(Black Saint/Soul Note)
In an interview with the Washington City Paper, esteemed jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille said, “...in the avant-garde there's gotta be a certain amount of precision, otherwise you couldn't live.” While “precision” may bring to mind strict metronomic rigor, in the context of free jazz this writer defines it as the ability to articulate a rich complexity in a way that feels immediate and vigorous, not clinical, fueled by experience. Known for his work both as a bandleader and as a sideman, most notably for pianist Cecil Taylor in the ’60s and ’70s, Cyrille is a masterful drummer, whose unpredictability and creativity is often transmuted into a stimulating joy: passionate, with good posture.
This new 7-CD set compiles a wealth of recordings made between 1978 and 1995 in two-to-four-person groups, outlining some of the dizzying diversity in Cyrille's career as a composer and improviser. In the film business, there's a saying that “Directing is 90 percent casting,” and translated into the jazz world, that is also true; Cyrille selects some incredible talent for his ensembles, such as saxophonist David S. Ware, heard relatively early in his career on Metamusicians' Stomp with ardent, vital playing. Difficult to grasp, Nuba is perhaps the most out-there album in this set, featuring singer Jeanne Lee and saxophonist Jimmy Lyons; the jazz poetry doesn't quite work for this writer, and the trio feels like it's holding back too much. That's not the case on the breathtaking, exploratory Something in Return, featuring a duo with Lyons, which offers a memorable, impressionistic version of “Take the A Train” and daring, stirring performances.
The configuration on Special People is somewhat reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's Cherry/Haden/Higgins quartet, with a classic avant-garde (an oxymoron?) sound, and The Navigator is another solid album and perhaps the most accessible of the seven, with more of a smoky-bar feel with Sonelius Smith's piano. Flutist James Newton is a standout on the last two albums, being simultaneously wild and elegant, often vocalizing and blowing at the same time. X Man begins like it could be an easy-listening album from the ’60s before gradually becoming more adventurous, and Good to Go, with a Tribute to Bu is almost tribal at times, with Cyrille, Newton and bassist Lisle Atkinson firing on all cylinders, closing a collection brimming with talent and inspiration.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the Danish instrumental guitar/bass/drums trio Papir is that it sounds so damn positive, in the indie rock world where being brooding and conflicted can often seem de rigueur. The group has no qualms about shaking a tambourine, and it's scientifically proven that it's impossible to feel sad while listening to a tambourine. Papir's approach offers a modern-day take on psychedelic rock with lengthy compositions and room for improvisation; it touches certain other flavors—prog rock, space rock, the band Tortoise—without lingering too long to be pigeonholed.
The first track on the outfit's new album, IIII, begins with a lush, easygoing attitude that takes its sweet time to build slowly toward two peaks, introducing some polite wah-pedal guitar soloing and pounding bass/snare-drum interplay with nearly constant crash cymbal taps. The melodies themselves aren't complex, but it's all the layering that makes it sound like it is; this writer isn't so sure it has enough ideas to justify its 11-minute length, and somewhat (unintentionally) humorously, it approaches the end with a riff that sounds exactly like Led Zeppelin's “Four Sticks.” The second track, “IIII.II,” opens with guitar harmonics and volume-pedal-shaped notes that drift in smoothly, leading to the now-familiar trademark Papir build and raucous climax that occurs just past the song's mid-point.
The 22-minute third track is what could be called a false epic—the whole isn't more than the sum of its parts but is merely equal. It shifts into overdrive twice, at the 5-minute and 15-minute marks, delivering some heavy, meaty chugging; during the more exploratory moments, guitarist Nicklas Sørensen doesn't overextend himself, although it feels like he could push himself a little further, both technically and improvisationally. Although this writer has some reservations regarding IIII, Papir demonstrates ample ability in two very different categories when delivering its hopeful psych-rock: building subtle layers of textures and serving up big, dumb, heavy riffage.