Andrew Cyrille: Tell Us Only the Beautiful Things; Opus de Life & The Dark Tree

Clifford Allen By

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Walt Dickerson

Tell Us Only the Beautiful Things


1975 (2009)

Profound Sound Trio

Opus De Life



Horace Tapscott

The Dark Tree

Hat Hut

1991 (2009)

Percussionist Andrew Cyrille was one of the few drummers who could have propelled the particularly high-energy music of the Cecil Taylor Unit during its dense zenith of the '60s-70s. Following the departure of Sunny Murray in 1964, Cyrille traded volleys with Taylor's piano and alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons for over ten years. Brooklyn-born, Cyrille got his recording start on tenor man Coleman Hawkins' Moodsville LP The Hawk Relaxes (1961) with Ronnell Bright, Ron Carter and Kenny Burrell. It might seem like a stretch to imagine transitioning to the Taylor group, but in the early '60s Cyrille also played regularly with such open-minded post-bop players as bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, reedman Rahsaan Roland Kirk and vibraphonist Walt Dickerson (1928-2008).

Dickerson and Cyrille go back to 1961 with the vibesman's first LP, This is Walt Dickerson! (New Jazz) and continued into the '80s. The only break was Dickerson's ten-year absence from the recording scene from 1965. Tell Us Only the Beautiful Things was his return from that absence in a trio format, with the bass chair filled by Wilbur Ware, the first in a series of 'free' records that Dickerson and Cyrille shared. Dickerson's concept of freedom isn't that far removed from the level of interaction evident on such LPs as To My Queen (New Jazz, 1962), a muted and weighty sparseness that on "The Nexus" evolves into lengthy unaccompanied statements that stray far from simple thematic material. Dickerson is one of those rare players able to create sprawling density with a very light touch, cascading granules of notes and glassy reverb forming a warm-ice sheen. Compared to a decade or so prior to this date, Cyrille's playing is markedly denser and, though sensitive to the music's space, certainly gives it an explosiveness that amplifies Dickerson's pelting mallet approach.

Bassist Henry Grimes and Cyrille were part of the rhythm team in Taylor's 1964-66 group. Grimes mirrored the drummer's percussive knocks and tidal surge on Unit Structures and Conquistador (both Blue Note, 1966), the primary extant documents of this band. On Opus de Life, they are the two making a triangle with English reedman Paul Dunmall in this live recording from the 2008 Vision Festival. Dunmall is a true powerhouse tenor player, who works tart, gruff phrases in the tradition of Sonny Rollins and Archie Shepp with more than a few doses of Tubby Hayes and Albert Ayler (see "Beyonder") thrown in. It's kind of a weird amalgam, in a way, but Dunmall's work is not so much a historicizing of those forebears as a direct outgrowth of that train of influence. From the first moments of "This Way Please" it's clear that they're finding their way, but even with a slight degree of hesitancy, Dunmall and Cyrille seem well-matched. Cottony cymbal architecture is a needlepoint canvas to the tenor man's heel-digging flights, which, though they take a few minutes to stick, are extraordinary once they appear. Grimes is in good form as a meaty, droning anchor. His violin work is intriguing when paired with Dunmall's bagpipes, though it's the flying low-register horsehair that the (enthusiastic) crowd came for.

Cyrille's association with clarinetist-composer John Carter dates to the middle '80s, when Carter began recording his four-album Roots & Folklore series for Gramavision. In essence, The Dark Tree is on paper a meeting between Carter's later work and the sound-world of pianist-composer Horace Tapscott, brothers in the scantly-documented but fertile Los Angeles new music scene from the late '60s onward. Rounding out the quartet is Cecil McBee, on this three-night stand at Hollywood's Catalina Bar and Grill in 1989—a hopeful period of greater visibility for Tapscott's music. Sadly, the two volumes of The Dark Tree were to be Carter's last recordings and among the last for Tapscott. The title track, in two iterations across the set, is a corker somewhat reminiscent of Mal Waldron's anthemic '70s work, yet Tapscott's playing has a differently dark rhapsodic edge and, coupled with the stone-skipping rhythm of Cyrille, moves mass with a light touch. Carter's playing can be best described as spiraling classical flights, though he touches as much on Buddy Collette as Michel Portal. Around him swirl piano, bass and drums in a frightening, powerful group urge. Though Tapscott led an incredible big band under the Pan-Afrikan Peoples' Arkestra moniker, The Dark Tree is a fine introductory slice of his compositional approach and shows a group for the ages at the height of its power.

Tracks and Personnel

Tell Us Only the Beautiful Things

Tracks: The Nexus; Tell Us Only the Beautiful Things.

Personnel: Walt Dickerson: vibraphone; Wilbur Ware: bass; Andrew Cyrille: drums.

Opus De Life

Tracks: This Way, Please; Call Paul; Whirligigging; Beyonder; Futurity.

Personnel: Paul Dunmall: tenor saxophone and bagpipes; Henry Grimes: bass and violin; Andrew Cyrille: drums

The Dark Tree

Tracks: Disc One: The Dark Tree; Sketches of Drunken Mary; Lino's Pad; One for Lately. Disc Two: Sandy and Niles; Bavarian Mist; The Dark Tree 2; A Dress for Renee; Nyja's Theme.

Personnel: Horace Tapscott: piano; John Carter: clarinet; Cecil McBee: bass; Andrew Cyrille: drums.


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