Tyshawn Sorey – Pillars – Firehouse 

by | Dec 1, 2018 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Tyshawn Sorey – Pillars [TrackList follows] – Firehouse 12, FH12-01-02-028 CD 1: 77:15, CD 2: 75:02, CD 3: 78:02 [10/12/18] ****:

There are not many performer/composers who would or could write, record and release a 3-CD project which is essentially a lengthy, nearly four-hour opus of unified composition and improvisation. Anthony Braxton comes to mind; Keith Jarrett is another; Roscoe Mitchell certainly might be mentioned. Drummer/composer Tyshawn Sorey’s Pillars is a tour de force which mines musical territory as diverse as Tibetan chanting, avant-jazz, modern experimentalists such as Morton Feldman, Karlheinz Stockhausen and more. Sorey has made his mark as a sideman for forward-thinking artists including Mitchell, Braxton, Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer and others. But Sorey’s work as a leader has proved to be the most enriching, enthralling and adventurous. Pillars was issued as a 3-CD digipack, as downloadable digital formats or a 2-LP vinyl set. This review refers to the 3-CD package. Please note the LP version is a different, re-edited edition titled Pillars IV.

Some will want to pigeonhole Pillars as jazz. But it may be interpreted as neo-modernist classical or avant-garde. It’s all of that and none of that. Sorey has the talent to see across genres, to defy categorization and create music which owes allegiance to nothing except what Sorey accomplishes. As Sorey explains, “This isn’t goal-oriented music – it has a gradually evolving, flowing quality. Different players lay out and join in as the piece evolves, and listeners can dip in and out of the record similarly, say, one disc at a time. I don’t necessarily expect someone to listen to all three parts in a go. Actually, I see the ideal experience as meditative, akin to how it works with ambient music, so that you’re almost ‘listening without listening’ – a Zen way of experiencing music.” In other words, there is no overarching ‘storyline’ or narrative. Sorey states, “The music is more or less ‘non-directional’ in scope.” To realize his larger-than-norm compositional and performance reach, Sorey drafted an octet which comprises multi-horn player Stephen Haynes (credits include Bill Dixon, George Russell, La Monte Young, Cecil Taylor and Rhys Chatham); trombonist Ben Gerstein (who doubles on melodica; he has performed with Michael Formanek, Ches Smith and Tony Malaby); guitarist Todd Neufeld (his résumé includes Samuel Blaser and others); and several bassists who use other instruments (Joe Morris adds electric guitar; Carl Testa is also credited with electronics; Mark Helias and Zach Rowden are listed solely on double bass).

CD 1 showcases Sorey’s intentions regarding breaking free of the line between the written score and improvisation. Sorey clarifies, “The notation is the map, not the destination. It’s not dissimilar to John Coltrane’s extended works, in that it’s the dynamic flow that’s the most important thing. I think we achieved something special in the studio that we could never replicate live. To me, the recording is the piece.” The 77-minute CD 1 begins with a three-and-a-half minute droning percussion introduction, followed by Neufeld’s innately-interior acoustic guitar statement. The entire conception has a progressively embryonic characteristic. Various musicians enter, leave, and return; the music moves from purely acoustic to electric and acoustic at the same time. There are massed arco basses; coalescing brass; and eerie, landscaped electronic tidbits. Bells are rung, sonorous trumpets or trombones soar and ebb, low frequencies filter in and are supplanted by abrasive tones.

The 75-minute CD 2 starts with an explorative, twinned bass prologue where arco and plucked strings commingle and dynamically and harmonically alter. Listening to this prolonged preface is akin to hearing someone translate Derek Bailey on solo bass alongside someone doing a solo bass interpretation of Stockhausen, both at the same time. CD 2 investigates slow development, lingering shifts and the dexterous application of extemporaneous musical autonomy. There are expanded percussion passages which span from thunderous drums to the low chime of bells. There is also an active, practically ritualistic portion for guitars, trombones and three basses. CD 2 concludes with Sorey on the dungchen (a Tibetan horn with a deep, foghorn-like tone) as well as cavernous percussion which provides an ethereal resonance.

The 78-minute CD 3 has similar constructive components. Arco bass and acoustic guitar duet in a blend almost droning at the start; later Sorey and Haynes craft a percussive segment; then Sorey re-introduces the dungchen; close to the halfway point there is a lithe, defined and quiet percussion break. In the second half there is a loud and violent alignment with the horns, Testa’s screeching electronics, prickly electric guitar and swirling basses.

Pillars is best heard with superior audiophile equipment. Sorey often emphasizes the low-end spectrum via various low horns, the four double-basses and the bottom-end of his percussion kit. But the musical depth also has meticulous, higher-end cornet, trumpet, percussion and acoustic guitar. And the overall sonic specifics course from nearly inaudible to raucous. There is a LOT to grasp over the duration of the three CDs, but the extraordinary thing is a listener can take it as a whole or in careful slices and either way experience something breathtakingly original.

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

CD 1: Pillars 1
CD 2: Pillars 2
CD 3: Pillars 3

—Doug Simpson

More info and track samples:



Portrait Tyshawn Sorey

Tyshawn Sorey



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