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Unfiltered: The Tyshawn Sorey Sextet at the Jazz Gallery

Dave Kaufman By

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The Jazz Gallery in New York City is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. It's a great room to listen to music and is also photographer friendly. The Gallery is known for paying homage to jazz greats but is perhaps best known for its commitment to supporting young musicians. It also provides a space for musical artists to experiment with new works and ensembles. As part of the anniversary celebration, the Tyshawn Sorey Sextet was featured for a five-night stand. Sorey is known for his volcanic yet nuanced drumming as both a sideman and a leader. In recent years, he has also become recognized as an outstanding composer. Sorey was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (known as the genius award) in 2017, which affords him the freedom to pursue a range of projects. The Sextet consisted of young musicians including Sasha Berliner on vibraphone, Morgan Guerin on tenor saxophone, Nick Dunston on bass, Nathan Reising on alto \saxophone, and pianist Lex Korten.

All five nights were sold out, and there was an incredible buzz about the shows. I caught them on the last night of their stand, and there was a very long line of people waiting without tickets hoping to get in. The band played sets ranging from 2.5 to 3 hours of uninterrupted music, and they were on fire. They drew on Sorey's recently released superb digital-only album Unfiltered. I had not heard the music prior to seeing the performance, and it seemed to be part of a continuous suite with distinct passages. The three compositions on Unfiltered are simply titled Parts 1, 2, and 3 and range in length from 30 to 55 minutes. The segments or phases did not matter as the music was performed as one continuous piece without explicit beginnings or endings—at least that was discernible to me. Sorey has received much in the way of accolades for his work across multiple genres. This work was within the elastic boundaries of the jazz idiom.

The music was richly composed and featured the ensemble in various combinations. As mentioned, the music is constituted by long-form compositions with a lot of variation in tempo and mood that can develop over comparatively longer stretches of time. Each of the musicians was given ample room for lengthy solos, and there were some mind-blowing ones. I was not previously acquainted with Reising and Korten, but they played truly stunning ovation-worthy solos, as did the other musicians. Sorey was a constant presence, stoking the fires of the other musicians as they soloed, shaping the sound and (presumably) signaling musical transitions through his playing. It was hard to discern what parts were composed and improvised even during the solos. I imagine that the musicians were given latitude to create, but also followed a well-defined musical arc.

The vibes seem to be enjoying a renaissance in jazz with several great young and young veteran players. Sasha Berliner is undoubtedly one of the leading lights. She is featured liberally on both the album and in performance as a soloist and as a primary voice in the ensemble. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of vibes and piano against the horns, which created a striking array of colors and has seemingly endless combinatorial possibilities. Morgan Guerin is a powerhouse saxophonist and a remarkably versatile multi-instrumentalist. He is also featured on EWI on the album to excellent effect.

Like the Unfiltered album, the compositions are lengthy and complex, the music is accessible, beautiful and superbly realized. It was an epic nearly three-hour performance, and everyone in the audience recognized that they had witnessed something extraordinary.
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