The enigma that is Tyshawn Sorey: while most young drummers are walking in the footsteps of the elders and the influences of the mainstream, Sorey thrives on the outside, composing and performing free improvised music, leading experimental groups such as Oblique, or doing stints with progressives like Fieldwork (pianist Vijay Iyer, saxophonist Steve Lehman) and M-Base leader Steve Coleman. His debut That/Not further exposes the inner workings of a young musician with the ability to play in any context, but the boldness to do his own thing.
The recording documents the multi-instrumentalist/composer joined by a crew he's played with for a few yearsa derivation (no sax or guitar) of the standard jazz quartet with Ben Gerstein (trombone), Corey Smythe (piano), and Thomas Morgan (bass). But that's where the similarities end. This is music beyond typical categorizations, delving more into sound textures, mood, and tension in place of the usual AABA forms, obligatory solos, etc... This becomes evident on the first disc titled That, with the piece "Leveled," as the musicians manipulate each instrument's voice in delicate sound patterns: the bass's reverberation, the crash or tingle of cymbals, the mouth-piece slur of the tromboneall weaved within a meticulous web of sound.
The music is also about symmetry, mathematics, and not just free expression. There are pieces that are seemingly more structured such as the intriguing "Template" tracks which are dream-like motifs with the constant backdrop of light static noise. Sorey's ideas are complex, mysterious and audacious, and his solo piece, "Permutations for Solo Piano," may leave you scratching your head as he plays exacting, spaced chords for nearly 43 minutes. But this is followed by the brilliant "Seven Pieces for Trombone Quartet," an eleven minute opus broken into short, intricate sections, each one isolated and surprising.
The second disc titled Not is just as thought-provoking in its complexity. The 22-minute "Sacred and Profane"Smythe's piano threads patterns as Sorey's drums and Morgan's bass enter into deliberate, uncharted territories where contrasts abound. The cinematic and dark progression of "Cell Block" has tightly woven instruments in an almost swing-like tempo-groove.
From the antithesis sentiment of "That's a Blues, Right?" to the closing piano solo piece "Commentary," this is music that is unconventional, blatant, and unique. One last (and maybe moot) point: the musicians are excellent and Sorey's playing is profound, but he states "I am a drummer who composes music; the function of this album is not a demonstration of my abilities, but my interests as an artist." And with That/Not, the mission is accomplished.
Track Listing: CD1: Leveled; Template I; Sympathy; Permutations for Solo Piano; Seven Pieces for Trombone Quartet; Template II.
CD2: Sacred and Profane; Template III; Four Duos; Cell Block; That's a Blues,Right?; Template IV; Commentary.
Personnel: Ben Gerstein: trombone (CD1#1-2, CD1#5-6, CD2#1-3, CD2#5-6); Corey Smythe: piano (CD1#2-6, CD2#2, CD2#4-7), wurlitzer organ (CD2#3); Thomas Morgan: bass (CD1#1-3, CD1#5-6, CD2#1-6); Tyshawn Sorey: drums (CD1#1-3, CD1#5-6, CD2#1-6), piano (CD1#1, CD2#3).