14. The real thing

My ship. From Andrew Cyrille, Metamusicians’ Stomp, 1978

Manchester in the late 1970s. There’s one decent jazz gig a week, thanks to a recent re-awakening at the old Band on the Wall – an easy walk from where I’m living. I hear bands drawn from a (fairly small) pool of local players, classy London visitors if the venue – and they – are feeling adventurous. And then, one glorious Thursday night, this lot.

Hard to recover the impact of an evening like that now. Hard to believe there were so few gigs in those days. The UK scene was much smaller. Concert hall jazz was a rarity. Jazz festivals hadn’t really got going. And Americans touring Europe would quite often miss out the UK. So to see this band making a date outside London seemed remarkable. I think it was the first time I saw a powerful American contemporary outfit up close in a small club.

Powerful? Oh yes. They hadn’t more technique than the Brits, necessarily (though Cyrille had, and has, enough technique for several regular drummers). But they had, attitude, I guess. 

It was, I remember, stunning. Just another night on the road for them, an astonishing treat for us. And a one-off. (Dexter Gordon was famously induced to play the same venue, but on the night his drug of choice rendered him more or less incapable of playing.)

At this distance, I don’t remember much else about it. But I do remember they had this record for sale, also a novelty in those days, and there was (just) enough cash left at evening’s end. An extravagance for an impecunious grad student, but I had to have it.

I still do, and I’m always glad to remind myself that it is as good as I thought then. The writing and the playing are consistently excellent. Cyrille is the most musical of drummers, and has that always satisfying sense of latent force only just kept leashed. Ted Daniel on trumpet is a model of post-bop inventiveness. Nick DiGeronimo on bass is vital, too, especially on the 21-minute Spiegelgasse 14 that takes up one side of the old vinyl. Still wonder what happened to him – he doesn’t seem to have recorded after a few sessions with Cyrille.

I love that suite, which still seems quite an achievement of sustained invention – you should listen. But I’ve gone for My Ship, because I have unlimited love for the tune, and on which we hear much less of the others but more (twice) from David S Ware on tenor. No mystery what happened to him, and here he is fully formed, tearing in to Weill’s melody. The combination of that memorable line and Ware’s ripsaw timbre – often compared to Archie Shepp at this a stage in his career, but Ayler or Gato Barbieri come more to mind – remains striking to say the least.

Cyrille, now an old master, remains at work – I saw him in a lockdown streaming session from Small’s in New York with Ethan Iverson and Thomas Morgan just the other week. Still supremely skilled; still as hip as it is possible to be. His discography is vast, but I think this one is a highlight, even without it being a personal souvenir.

full album

Why the No 14? This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.

There’s a cumulative playlist of all the ones that can be found on Spotify

And I’m going to collect all the posts on this page.

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