NYC Winter Jazzfest, Day 2: January 7, 2012
It's one thing to pander to the critics by paying lip service to diverse artists like Woody Shaw and Michael Jackson 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 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 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 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'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'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.