Tyshawn Sorey's musical career has been steadily moving away from jazz and toward new music in several forms. Verisimilitude (Pi Recordings, 2017) is dominated by a series of textural motions that create a dark mood. That album followed another Pi release, The Inner Spectrum of Variables (2016); an album that featured classical composition and improvisation. Sorey's new album, Pillars, is yet another departure for the composer/multi-instrumentalist; a three-disc set that is beyond categorization.
Stephen Haynes, Joe Morris and Mark Helias are some notable members of the superb octet assembled here. With the exception of Helias and fellow bassist Zach Rowden, each of the ensemble's players are featured on multiple instruments. The group, however, rarely plays as a unit but more often in sub-sets or solos. Each of the three discs contains a single work; individually they run more than seventy-five minutes in length.
"Pillars I" is the first disc and it opens with a four-minute Sorey drum solo, augmented by Carl Testa's whisper of electronics. Despite that introduction, Sorey's instrumental focus on Pillars is not the drums; he is heard on trombone and adds the dungchen, a Tibetan long trumpet, or horn. The first piece abruptly stops and refocuses on guitar and the percussion then resets for a long passage of bowed bass and brass. After a brief entanglement with anarchy, the final twenty minutes of "Pillars I" is a minimal drone (of sorts) led by Haynes trumpet and Sorey's percussion. Even in the many drone-like passages, there are sharp, unexpected intrusions from a variety of corners.
A deep, woody bass, and intricate guitar work, again with an ambient backdrop, reaches twenty-minutes into "Pillars II." Helias and Rowden here engage in a casual dialog at first but dissonance and unidentifiable noises emerge. The gradual appearance of percussion and brass give the second section an oddly ceremonial feeling. Sorey's dungchen and Ben Gerstein's trombone figure prominently in the setting up the ominous conclusion. "Pillars III" is the most frenetic of the pieces with greater emphasis on extended techniques and electronics. Nonetheless, there are protracted passages of stillness, a characteristic that is crucial to the structure of the entire collection.
Shortly after the October, 2018 release of Pillars, the Firehouse 12 label released (in November, 2018) the double-LP Pillars IV, consisting of four pieces edited from the same sessions. Each of compositions are from twenty to twenty-five minutes but "Part I" through "Part IV" of the second collection are stand-alone works. As with the October release, Sorey gives us perceptive composing and bold, imaginative interchanges; he isn't dependent on experimentation but when he chooses that route, it feels risky, perplexing, and strangely appealing. At its best, Pillars combines that sense of adventure, with improvised melodies and mysterious voids. The results are brilliantly appealing and truly unlike anything on record. Sorey has long been a highly sought-after drummer in jazz, but more than ten years ago, in his liner notes for That/Not (Firehouse 12, 2007), he stated: "I am a drummer who composes music; the function of this album is not a demonstration of my abilities as a drummer, but my interests as an artist." If there had been any doubt, listen to Pillars.
CD 1: Pillar I)
CD 2: Pillar II)
CD 3: Pillar III).
Tyshawn Sorey: conductor, drum set, percussion, trombone, dungchen; Stephen Haynes: trumpet, flugelhorn, small percussion; Ben Gerstein: trombone, melodica; Todd Neufeld: electric and acoustic guitar; Joe Morris: guitar, double bass; Carl Testa: double bass, electronics; Mark Helias: double bass; Zach Rowden: double bass.
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