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Tyshawn Sorey – Alloy [TrackList follows] – Pi Recordings

Tyshawn Sorey – Alloy [TrackList follows] – Pi Recordings Pi56, 65:59 [10/28/14] ****:

(Tyshawn Sorey – drum set, producer; Cory Smythe – piano; Christopher Tordini – bass)

Drummer/composer Tyshawn Sorey embraces a varied selection of tones, sounds and approaches, and a methodology which combines improvisational forms, through-composed work, and a free-flowing aesthetic which can run from euphoric to calm, from spare and meditative, to furious and frenetic. As a drummer in demand, he’s performed or recorded with pianists Myra Melford and Vijay Iyer, saxophonist Steve Coleman, trumpeter Dave Douglas and many other forward-looking musicians who straddle jazz and other styles of music. On his latest project, the 66-minute Alloy, Sorey fractures expectations on what to anticipate within a piano trio format. Sorey’s current trio consists of pianist Cory Smythe (the multi-genre keyboardist has accompanied classical violinist Hilary Hahn; and he can also be heard on Sorey’s 2007 effort, That/Not) and bassist Christopher Tordini (his résumé includes Greg Osby, Jeremy Pelt and Steve Lehman; he also participated on Sorey’s previous outing, 2011’s Oblique—I). Over the course of four lengthy pieces which range from just over seven minutes to over 30 minutes, the threesome show the potency of minimalism, how significant space can be, and how still waters can belie what lies deep beneath a seemingly placid surface.

Sorey, Smythe and Tordini begin with the eight-minute “Returns,” although the digipak back cover confusingly lists this as being 15 minutes in length. The tune, inspired by Karlheinz Stockhausen’s early piano work and Morton Feldman, commences with a quiet composure punctuated by Sorey’s light cymbals and brushes, Smythe’s lingering, single notes and Tordini’s perceptively plucked bass strings. A spontaneous mannerism prevails, although there seems to be a stable sense of restraint and control. Gradually the discreet setting shifts as an underlying, mysterious melody is added to the increasing percussive layers and the subtle textures become less patterned and more anarchic. Near the conclusion, the central nucleus develops into tension and dissonance, which only ebbs at the very end, as the trio recaps an austere foreground, which unassumingly merges into the introduction to the album’s second and more formalized track, “Movement.” Sorey has stated that, for him, the boundaries which concern what is improvised and what is composed can often be eradicated; that his written texts define a particular kind of space for improvisation. That philosophy can be felt while traversing the 20-minute “Movement,” which has both a ductile demeanor but also a steady resolve. Sorey affirms “Movement” is progressively more elaborate than “Returns,” reestablishes his interest in tonal music, and was influenced by romantic traits found in material by Brahms, Debussy and jazz pianist Bill Evans. While “Movement” is not a crossover or third stream work, there are sections which do overlap both neo-classical and unstructured jazz. Although this extended tune is an egalitarian undertaking, Smythe is frequently the focal aspect, supplying bursts of melody, channeling a three-part harmony with Sorey and Tordini, and other times sweeping down to lower, mournful keys and then back up to higher, brighter notes. Tordini provides a sublime bass solo which accentuates the track’s mostly melancholy characteristic and Sorey’s delicate cymbals and sticks furnish further refinement. Sorey fans may recognize “Template,” because Sorey issued a quartet version on That/Not. Here, the trio escalates the pacing while reducing other elements. There is a portentous predominance during the first two, taciturn minutes, then suddenly the whole attitude veers when Sorey employs a fast groove and the tune changes into something completely different. The alteration is so unexpected first-time listeners may check to see if another CD has accidently started.

The CD’s coup de grâce is the half-hour opus, “A Love Song,” which Sorey says was prompted by four components: Feldman (specifically “For Bunita Marcus”); Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck”; Percy Sledge’s soul music hit, “When a Man Loves a Woman”; and the Anthony Braxton/Muhal Richard Abrams duet number, “Nickie” (see Braxton’s LP, Duets (1976)). As can be imagined, there are multiple tiers to this expansive tone poem, which Sorey declares is a depiction of a romance between an unstable man and several women, with a resolution which leads to deliberate seclusion. Smythe starts on solo piano, tenderly performing a pastel lullaby with faint, shadowy unease.

Approaching the midway point, the tension slowly mounts as Sorey enters to add atmospheric percussive effects and Tordini slips in suitably ghostly arco slices. Throughout, there is a restatement of certain notes, a recurrence of passages, and even of silences and spaces which are echoed as well in the other pieces. The end mirrors the beginning, as Smythe is once again alone on piano, his individual notes resonating into a final, spatial chasm. Alloy has beautiful sound and tonal quality, with strikingly-recorded piano, bass and drums put on tape by engineer Nick Lloyd, who has had previous experience helping Melford, Wadada Leo Smith, Sorey and Nico Muhly.

TrackList: Returns; Movement; Template; A Love Song.

—Doug Simpson

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