CD REVIEW: Tyshawn Sorey - Verisimilitude



Tyshawn Sorey – Verisimilitude
(Pi Recordings pi70. CD review by Brian Marley)


What kind of music is this? At first glance its instrumentation, a piano trio, would suggest jazz. But although the players – Tyshawn Sorey (drums, percussion), Chris Tordini (bass), and Cory Smythe (piano, toy piano, electronics) – are steeped in that idiom, Verisimilitude owes as much to Morton Feldman (check out the tolling two-chord repetition in Flowers for Prashant) as it does to Bill Evans, though to be fair it doesn’t sound like the music of either of them. To call it jazz is to sell it short.

Sorey isn’t just a drummer who also happens to compose. His ambition and gifts are greater than that. He’s an apt successor to Anthony Braxton (composer for multiple orchestras both here and on other planets) as professor of music on the master’s program at Wesleyan University. And there’s the MacArthur Fellowship he was awarded in October this year, which acknowledged not only his musicianship as a sideman on dozens of recordings, and the hard-to-pigeonhole CDs issued under his own name, but also his potential as a music maker for whom composition and improvisation are indivisible, part and parcel of the same continuum. I would, for example, defy you to tell me whether the electronics interlude during the first part of Obsidian, and touches reminiscent of the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) during its concluding phase, are composed or improvised.

But try Contemplating Tranquility if you want to hear a true genre-buster. The lengthy introduction features Sorey on gongs, slow strokes, deep tones, long resonance, creating a meditative atmosphere redolent of the music on his album Koan (482 Music, 2009). He’s a subtle colourist and he knows how to move the music forward with the gentlest of nudges. Eventually he’s joined by Smythe, at first with single high-register notes, then with deep rumbles out of which mid-range flourishes and stark chords emerge. Tordini doesn’t make his presence felt until the final third, where his arco lines are like ghostly whispers. The music builds in intensity, with Sorey switching to drums and Tordini to pizzicato, and it concludes with slow gong strokes, bringing it back to where it began.

What’s particularly striking about Verisimilitude – something that’s also true of Alloy (Pi Recordings, 2014), the previous CD by this trio – is how the players improvise compositionally. There’s no ego-flexing in this music, no foregrounded solos. This is especially noticeable in the long, suitelike pieces such as Algid November, here, and Alloy's A Love Song, both of which top the 30-minute mark. The transitional stages in these pieces occur almost subliminally; you suddenly find yourself in a different phase of the music without quite knowing how you got there.

Sorey will be appearing with his trio and participating in other instrumental configurations, at this November’s Berliner Festspiele – at which he’s the artist in residence, the first they’ve had in the festival’s 54-year history. Quite an accolade! Those lucky enough to attend will have a chance to find out how the compositions on Verisimilitude stand up to being warped into new shapes, given that the material, composed and improvised, can, as indicated by Sorey’s conductions, be played backwards or modified in various other ways.

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