Composer, percussionist, and pianist Tyshawn Sorey has been exploring the outer reaches of what it means to be a “jazz” musician for most of his career. Since his first album as a leader, 2007’s That/Not, which featured compositions for solo piano, trombone quartet, and other permutations, to his work in trios such as Fieldwork and Mario Pavone’s Blue Dialect, Sorey has shown a deep interest in working with both traditional and decidedly non-traditional jazz forms.
Sorey’s new album The Inner Spectrum of Variables
from Pi Recordings (which also released this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning album from Henry Threadgill
) features a double trio: a traditional “jazz” trio of Cory Smythe
on piano, Christopher Tordini
on bass, and the leader on drums, plus a “classical” string trio of Chern Kwei Fung
on violin, Kyle Armbrust
on viola, and Rubin Kodheli
on cello. Parts of the work are classical, parts are jazz, parts are composed, parts are (probably) improvised, but these are all basically meaningless distinctions in a work that is this unified and unique. (Buy it from Amazon
A double disc, Inner Spectrum is a work in eight parts: six movements, a “reverie,” and a “reprise.” The work begins and ends with Cory Smythe’s piano, playing figures that recall Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In between, we hear every possible grouping of the six musicians. Almost half of the “Reverie” is given over to solo percussion. Echoes of Morton Feldman, Bach, and Beethoven can be found lurking in the shadows and in the James Turrell-esque use of light, but the piece sounds entirely like Tyshawn Sorey and his cohorts.
The only moment that sounds like outright “jazz” is the opening of the third movement, when Smythe establishes a vamp echoed in Sorey’s crisp drumming, but like much of the album, it is quickly thwarted, becoming something else entirely right around the time you start nodding along. The constant evolution of ideas throughout the piece is fascinating. I’d love to see the score.
It’s a treat to hear an album this ambitious with six musicians all at the top of their game who pull it off so exceedingly well. It would be transcendental to hear The Inner Spectrum of Variables performed live. The album is a highlight of the year, one that I look forward to listening to over and over again.
Stream two tracks from the album on Bandcamp:
It was recently announced that Tyshawn Sorey, who is set to receive his Doctorate in Composition from Columbia, will be taking over Anthony Braxton’s old position at Wesleyan University starting in the fall of 2017. It is reassuring to know that someone with Sorey’s wide-ranging interests and abilities will be influencing the next generation of musicians to explore with open ears and open minds. If his influence is even half of what Braxton’s was in that position, the future of our music will prove to be very interesting.
King Sunny Ade