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Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy

Karl Ackermann By

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From an early age composer/drummer/educator Tyshawn Sorey has found creative outlets in not just music but in painting and literature as well. Never one to compartmentalize his own imagination, he has enthusiastically explored blues, gospel, classical and music for dance so it seems quite natural that his current music defies categories. Whether listening or writing, he takes a non-judgmental approach to the way he engages with music, preferring possibilities over prescription. Sorey has recorded or performed with a veritable who's-who of modern music including trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Dave Douglas, saxophonists Anthony Braxton, John Zorn and Tim Berne, and pianists Muhal Richard Abrams, Vijay Iyer to name just a few.

Following Sorey's highly acclaimed Oblique—I (PI Recordings, 2011), the four long compositions that make up Alloy represent something of a shift in focus to a coexistence of established structures and improvisations where melodies are fleeting but dramatically impactful. Sorey is joined by the superb pianist Corey Smythe who has travelled in similar musical circles as well as performing to outstanding reviews with classical violinist Hilary Hahn at the Kennedy Center. Bassist Christopher Tordini rounds out the trio after being part of Sorey's quintet on Oblique—I. No stranger to cutting-edge drummers, Tordini has worked with Jim Black, saxophonists Greg Osby and Steve Lehman and a number of prominent regulars on the New York downtown scene.

Alloy is a democratic endeavor though Smythe is often at the audible center of these works all of which have the feel of improvised tonal experiments. "Returns" begins in near silence but quickly becomes a free form exercise before returning to a minimalist setting. Melody doesn't so much develop as it does layer on subtle texture without diverting from the core pattern; the drive is always subtle with only enough tension to give pause to the possibility of a more volatile reaction. The energetic flow of "Movement" adds a bit more texture from Smythe before the melody unravels in a brief microburst of trio participation. The polyrythmic "Template" launches somewhere between ambience and furtive scratches and squeaks later joined by an ominous piano. There is the sporadic and deeply resonant bass lead before Smythe takes a more rhythmic turn. Sorey does a masterful job of starting, stopping and directing, carefully filling in the open spaces without over-controlling them. "Love Song"—with its lullaby opening—is dominated by single notes, clusters of notes and broken chords more often hinting at a melody than fully developing one. The extended piece unfolds patiently and with child-like simplicity.

The enigma of Sorey's compositions is that reiteration of notes, patterns and silences is a key part of these pieces and yet each ends with a complete sense of being uniquely unrepeatable; it is a feeling that this was a once in a lifetime experience. Like the lesser requirements of expressing true emotion and passion Alloy is full of moments that quietly and patiently search for just the right emphasis for these occasions while occasionally being punctuated with provocative twists and turns. This is an astounding recording that has the clean, primal quality of being inside the creative process; it is intelligent, visceral, melodic and essential.

Track Listing: Returns; Movement; Template; A Love Song.

Personnel: Tyshawn Sorey: drums; Cory Smythe: piano; Christopher Tordini: bass.

Title: Alloy | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Pi Recordings

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