Andrew Cyrille is perhaps the preeminent free-jazz percussionist of the 1980s and '90s. Few free-jazz drummers play with a tenth of Cyrille's grace and authority.
His energy is unflagging, his power absolute, tempered only by an ever-present sense of propriety. Cyrille is at his best in an utterly free context, as on his encounters with the ambidextrous pianist Borah Bergman, where his serrated rhythms and variable textures are given maximum latitude. Cyrille began playing drums in a drum and bugle corps at the age of 11. At 15, he played in a trio with guitarist Eric Gale. For a period in his teens, Cyrille studied chemistry before enrolling in Juilliard School of Music in 1958. In the late '50s and early '60s, he worked with such mainstream jazzers as Mary Lou Williams, Roland Hanna, Roland Kirk, Coleman Hawkins, and Junior Mance. He recorded with Hawkins, as well as tenor saxophonist Bill Barron, for the Savoy label. Cyrille succeeded Sunny Murray as Cecil Taylor's drummer in 1964. He stayed with the pianist until 1975, during which time he played on many of Taylor's classic albums. During that period he played with a good many other top players, including Marion Brown, Grachan Moncur III and Jimmy Giuffre. He also served for a time as artist in residence at Antioch College and recorded a solo percussion album, 1969's What About?, on BYG. Cyrille, Rashied Ali, and Milford Graves collaborated on a series of mid-'70s concerts entitled "Dialogue of the Drums." Beginning in 1975 and lasting into the '80s, Cyrille led his own group, called Maono, which included the tenor saxophonist David S. Ware, trumpeter Ted Daniel, pianist Sonelius Smith, and at various times bassists Lisle Atkinson and Nick DiGeronimo. During this time Cyrille also played with the Group, a band that included the violinist Billy Bang, bassist Sirone, altoist Brown, and trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah. With Graves, Don Moye, and Kenny Clarke, Cyrille recorded the all-percussion album Pieces of Time for Soul Note in 1983. When not leading his own bands, he also worked ubiquitously as a sideman with, among others, John Carter, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Jimmy Lyons. Cyrille continued as a leading player into the late '90s, recording fairly prolifically for Black Saint/Soul Note, FMP, and DIW.
That activity continued well into the 21st century. In 2000, he released the trio date C/D/E in collaboration with bassist Mark Dresser and saxophonist Marty Ehrlich. In 2002 he played duo concerts with Anthony Braxton, which were released in two volumes on Intact as Duo Palindrome 2002. Two years later he was part of The Mary Lou Williams Collective with pianist Geri Allen, bassist Buster Williams, and fellow drummer Billy Hart for the album Zodiac Suite: Revisited. That same year, he issued Blue Flame in duet with saxophonist Greg Osby and the trio date Witch's Scream with John Tchicai and Reggie Workman; both were issued by TUM. Between 2008 and 2011 he issued two recordings with pianist David Haney on CIMP, and three trio offerings with Danish pianist Søren Kjærgaard and bassist Ben Street for ILK. With Eric Revis and Kris Davis he released 2013's City Of Asylum for Clean Feed before revisting the Street-Kjærgaard trio with Syvmileskridt. Cyrille, ever the picture of musical diversity, played in a trio with saxophonist Bill McHenry and bassist Henry Grimes for 2014's Fish Story on Fresh Sound New Talent, and the following year with saxophonist Mikko Innanen and bassist William Parker on the double-length offering Song for a New Decade for TUM. In 2016 he debuted the Andrew Cyrille Quartet on ECM with Street, guitarist Bill Frisell, and pianist Richard Teitelbaum for the critically acclaimed Declaration of Musical Independence. Cyrille returned to CIMP in May of 2018 with another pair of recordings with Haney: the duo offering Clandestine and a trio set that included bassist Dominic Duval entitled Conspiracy a Go Go. Later that tear, Cyrille released his sophomore leader date for ECM. Titled Lebroba, the drummer's collaborators included Frisell and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. ~ Chris Kelsey, Rovi