Tyshawn Sorey - Pillars

Label: Firehouse 12, 2018

Personnel – Tyshawn Sorey: conductor, drum set, percussion, trombone, dungchen; Stephen Haynes: trumpet, flugelhorn, small percussion; Ben Gerstein: trombone, melodica; Todd Neufeld: electric and acoustic guitar; Joe Morris: guitar, double bass; Carl Testa: double bass; Mark Helias: double bass; Zach Rowden: double bass.


Drummer/composer/bandleader Tyshawn Sorey is a genius of modern composition. Embracing a completely different lineup and instrumentation when compared to his previous piano-trio session Verisimilitude (Pi Recordings, 2017), Sorey sculpts his forthcoming CD, a nearly four-hour, three-CD set opus entitled Pillars, to be quite an experience. However, it requires patience from the listener since the electro-acoustic octet he conducts digs deep into the abstract with a combination of sounds that can range from minimalistic hushes to ominous shouts and slashes to relentless machine-like sonic cycles. It’s difficult to say which parts are improvised and which are scored, but his willingness to try new things yields unpredictable outcomes on this particular work.

Part I kicks in with a long section of resonant ruffs with changing frequencies and overtones, morphing into a variegated patchwork of acoustic guitar and cymbals. This happens before the bassists are brought to the forefront and, whether bowing or strumming, create buzzing drones that support Stephen Haynes’ trumpet bursts designed in the upper register. Later, he is joined by Ben Gerstein’s trombone for a long conversation. Tweaked electronic vibes help to describe an unsettled cosmic reality through eerily phantasmagoric incursions or extraordinarily luminous points. Somewhere closer to the end, I could hear a bomb being dropped, an ambulance, a final blow… the trombone screams and the jittery percussion give the final touch to a dystopian scenario.

Part II is launched with a coalition of double basses - dented bowed reflections, cutting scratches and loose pizzicato sometimes create odd grooves. Then it’s time for electrical guitar rumination with effects, strident pointillism, harmonics, and drones. It precedes the war-like battalion that is arriving, emulated by melodica and drums. Water sounds with frenzied trumpet atop end up in a more accessible passage with trombone, guitar, and percussion.

Well-coordinated guitar plucks join the bowed basses to form eccentric chords in the solemn ritual that opens Part III. The trombone wails sound sweet when compared to the following lethargic section marked by cavernous arco bass, cymbal shatters, thumping toms, and electronic reverberance. The climax arrives with riotous attitude, softening again with the addition of acoustic guitar before diving into the haunting low-pitched sound waves that always return at the end of each part.

Sorey and his bandmates don’t reinvent but rather create from scratch with no preconceptions. This type of sound design would work wonders in movies like Malick’s The Tree of Life or Guy Maddin's experimental docufictions, offering sinister textures and timbres with sensorial intensity, instead of easy melodies on top of chord changes with perceptible rhythms underneath. I cannot say I would listen to this music every day (you have to be in that particular mood), but there is always something to be discovered when I do it. I’m still adjusting to Sorey's bold new sonic shapes.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Part I ► 02 - Part 2

Tyshawn Sorey - Verisimilitude

Label/Year: Pi Recordings, 2017

Lineup - Cory Smythe: piano, electronics; Chris Tordini: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums, percussion.

As one of the most innovative, consistent, and in-demand drummers on the current scene, Tyshawn Sorey always brings something bold and new to the projects he’s involved in, whether as a leader or a sideman.

After the complex yet absorbing musical poetry of last year’s unclassifiable The Inner Spectrum of Variables, Sorey is back with Verisimilitude, another spontaneous body of work full of unlimited ideas and conceived to be played in a malleable trio with pianist Cory Smythe and bassist Chris Tordini.

The opening tune, “Cascades in Slow Motion”, is also the shortest on the album and mirrors exactly what its title suggests as it dives in an apparent textural fragility that is progressively denied by Sorey’s decisive solidification of the rhythmic basis. Smythe’s regular moves anchor in inconsolable voicings for the final moments.

Like a classical mourning chant that wouldn’t embarrass Chopin or Debussy, “Flowers for Prashant” walks at snail’s pace through Smythe’s intriguing and tactile combinations of granular notes, intervallic cadences put out by relentless left-hand movements, and perplexing phrases and chords.

Those uncertain ways develop into sinister vibes on “Obsidian”, an 18-minute volatility that simulates utopian molecular activities through organized layers of sound. Electronic manipulations serve as points of departure, evolving into organic statements delivered conjointly by pianist and drummer, whose actions oscillate between static and dynamic. Tordini appears in the middle, soloing aplomb, but his speech is ultimately engulfed by Smythe’s low-tone hammering and the bandleader’s mystifying tribal artifacts. This is a tune that piques your imagination and turns your senses widely alert.

With almost 31 minutes of unstoppable instrumental exploration over a fluctuant, improvised ground, the Homeric “Algid November” lives from vital sonic elements that include several percussion effects, atmospheric vagueness, paradoxical piano incursions, and small, controlled explosions of variable intensity and purpose. The trio becomes delightfully melodious at some point in the middle of this intriguing trajectory, breaking the currents of ambiguity and shaping its sound with more accessible procedures. Another particular stage of this tune comprises multiple nuanced piano ostinatos accompanied by percussive chimes and offbeat drum punches. One can also hear different kinds of chimes, gongs, and cymbal splashes on “Contemplating Tranquility”, the wide but still tangible closing piece.

Defying every attempt of music categorization and declining musical conventions, Tyshawn Sorey takes a traditional piano jazz trio to another level through his crepuscular, unconventional creativity. This music is not instantly absorbed. It’s a slow infusion of intricate sounds that cross, connect, and live for real.

        Grade  A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Flowers for Prashant ► 03 - Obsidian ► 04 - Algid November

Tyshawn Sorey - The Inner Spectrum of Variables

Tyshawn Sorey: drums; Cory Smythe: piano; Chris Tordini: bass; Rubin Kodheli: violoncello; Fung Chern Hwei: violin; Kyle Armburst: viola.

The highly in-demand and proficient drummer, Tyshawn Sorey, enriches the sound of his experimental trio, the same that gave us “Alloy” two years ago, with the addition of a resolute trio of strings. 
“The Inner Spectrum of Variables”, a double-disc album that comprises six creative movements and a loose percussive tune, successfully rambles on jazz, classical, avant-garde, and exotic territories, creating several cinematic soundscapes that enthrall and satisfy. Sometimes low-key and minimal, sometimes effusive and intricate, this record gives us a lot to discover. Through his openhanded compositions, Sorey concedes enough space for his peers to express themselves in an erudite way. Smythe, in particular, deserves attention in the way he communicates, proving himself a specialist in the art of creating tension. 
This music breathes at the same time that casts a powerful effect on us.  

Favorite Tracks:
03 (cd1) – Movement III ► 02 (cd2) – Movement IV ► 03 (cd2) – Movement V + VI + Reprise