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Live Reviews

NYC Winter Jazzfest, Day 2: January 7, 2012

By Published: January 19, 2012
The whole set was united by an unflagging pulse, due in part to Brown and Charles's perpetual input. Whether it was the relaxed Afro-pop beat marches of Williams' "Home" or the hybrid, swinging hip-hop on "Dawn of a New Day," the rhythm never stopped. Stevens used his relaxed guitar sound to wash most of the night's set in a particularly soulful brand of cool. Amongst the more bebop-inspired material, Shaw and Clayton provided quite a few approaches; Shaw played outside harmonies like there was nothing to it, but also approached chord changes in the most elegant and effective way possible. Clayton is always known for his soul, but he also had a more twisted side, drawing from equal parts Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
and J-Dilla.

It's one thing to pander to the critics by paying lip service to diverse artists like Woody Shaw
Woody Shaw
Woody Shaw
1944 - 1989
trumpet
and Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson
1958 - 2009
vocalist
but Ben Williams is one of the few musicians who, when it was time to "put up or shut up," could play both. Sound Effect's stew of Latin, funk and hard-bop served Shaw's "The Moontrane" well, allowing Clayton, Shaw and Williams to give their diverse statements over the tricky but satisfying chord changes. Williams' intro to the little-played Jackson tune "Little Susie" set the pace for the entire piece, moving complex figures up the neck of the electric bass with flamenco inflections. Shaw's soprano and Clayton's spirited piano gave the pop waltz a Greek wedding feel, breathing the same sort of improvisational life into classical ¾ that Coltrane did with "My Favorite Things."

Tyshawn Sorey
Tyshawn Sorey
Tyshawn Sorey
b.1980
drums
Oblique


Tyshawn Sorey has earned himself credit (and not nearly enough of it) for being a drummer, pianist, trombonist, bandleader and a composer of improvised, composed, electronic and acoustic music of jazz and new music mediums. These things all fall second, however, to his full-time job as a musician continuously defying expectation. Sorey's previous output as a leader has closely followed the aesthetic of great New York composers like John Cage
John Cage
John Cage
1912 - 1992
composer/conductor
and Morton Feldman, architects and philosophers on space and indeterminacy. The record released of Sorey's Oblique I(Pi Recordings, 2011) found Sorey in a sonically dense, rhythmically vivacious place. But just to avoid building up too many assumptions about the composer, Sorey's late set at The Bitter End explored both ends of the sound spectrum.

Despite being in a more ostensibly "jazz" mode than usual, Sorey's music for Oblique was still elusive and malleable. Melodies, background figures and chord changes were rooted in the lingua franca of contemporary jazz composition, but often veered in a new direction, either texturally, rhythmically or harmonically. Chris Tordini's bass and Sorey's drums weren't as much a concrete foundation as they were a pulsating rhythmic field that supported but also reacted with the overlaying soloist. Alto saxophonist Loren Stillman
Loren Stillman
Loren Stillman
b.1980
sax, alto
was particularly at home with soloing in this context, his cubist soloing style fitting in appropriately. Sorey had crafted an amazing ability to accompany solos and traverse new territory all at once, sitting comfortably in his own compositional style and then aggressively ushering it into new places by way of mixed volume shifts and stylistic abruptions. For all its complexity, Sorey's music still contained a lot of heart; inside each slantwise melody or labyrinthine song structure, there were bits and pieces of groove-based music a la drum-and-bass and some of the meditative quality of Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
's music.

Though more "traditionally composed," Oblique still explored ideas of color and texture. Sorey incorporated his fondness for the hypnotic clangs of metallic percussion that enveloped each piece in unique colors. Some of guitarist's Todd Neufeld's soloing was laconic enough to be an outgrowth of his ethereal guitar tone, his unpredictable bursts of guitar figures appearing and disappearing like ghosts. John Escreet
John Escreet
John Escreet
b.1984
piano
's Fender Rhodes pinging followed in tandem with Sorey and Tordini's guidance, sometimes as softly and delicately as a music box or as loud and intense as an electrical generator. Oblique might be the most important ensemble in Sorey's oeuvre. It speaks the vernacular of modern jazz but lines itself with decoded references to New Music and constant sonic exploration.


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