Multi-instrumentalist and composer Tyshawn Sorey has spent two decades pushing the boundaries of jazz and strengthening its ties to contemporary classical music. But he takes a very different approach on his latest recording, “Mesmerism” (Yeros7 Music). This collection of respectful renditions of works composed by mainstream jazz figures such as Duke Ellington, Paul Motian and Horace Silver is presented by a conventional trio, with Matt Brewer on bass, Aaron Diehl on piano and Mr. Sorey him -even on the battery. But the captivating result is more than an exercise in nostalgia; it advances contemporary trends.
The album opens with Silver’s ‘Enchantment’, first recorded in 1956. Unlike the hard bopping, bluesy style that would become Silver’s trademark, this composition is reserved; it looks like a good entry point for Mr. Sorey, who often records methodical, austere sounds in intimate settings. His drums, Mr. Diehl’s piano and Mr. Brewer’s bass weave their way into the meditative qualities of the classic.
Bill Evans’ Detour Ahead follows, and it’s phenomenal. Mr. Brewer’s introspective solo sets the tone, followed by Mr. Diehl’s terse and piquant playing. Mr. Sorey unites the debates with gentle propulsion. Considering the intensity, their 14-minute collaboration seems brief. Evans (1929-1980) was a fundamental influence on Mr. Sorey, both for the harmonic innovations in his music and for the way the pianist’s famous trios of the late 1950s and 1960s featured bass and the drums as equal partners with the piano.
Paul Motian (1931-2011) was an important member of these influential Evans groups and another vital inspiration to Mr. Sorey. During the lockdown, Mr Sorey assembled one of Motian’s most beloved bands, a trio featuring guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano for a live broadcast at the Village Vanguard. “From Time to Time” by Motian, a ballad, is interpreted with meticulous delicacy by MM. Brewer, Diehl and Sorey.
While the first four tracks of the recording have the cozy atmosphere of an autumn walk through the countryside, the bustle of the city rises on “Two Over One”, by Muhal Richard Abrams. Abrams (1930-2017) was one of the founding fathers of the jazz avant-garde of the 1960s, and a great conductor and organizer. Here, Mr. Sorey and his team also present him with an excellent record as a composer. The piece overflows with urban intensity, supported by insistent piano chords and powerful drums.
For more than a decade, Abrams and his peers have earned the institutional respect their accomplishments deserve, but performances like “Two Over One” fill an important gap in getting their music heard. Mr. Sorey’s work lines up with covers of Ronald Shannon Jackson and Sun Ra by pianist Kris Davis; the collective trio Thumbscrew devoted an entire recording to the music of Anthony Braxton; pianist Vijay Iyer, a frequent collaborator of Mr. Sorey, performed music by Henry Threadgill. These inclusions are more than useful representations; they affirm an unbroken lineage of the jazz canon, a stark contrast to the conventional wisdom of 20 years ago that ghettoized the jazz avant-garde.
Mr. Sorey’s career spans this necessary change. He is 42 years old and grew up in Newark, NJ Emerging on the New York jazz scene in the early 2000s, he made an impression with both direct and experimental ensembles. In addition to gaining acclaim for his recordings, he began to compose mostly and fully notated works. Her 2016 song cycle about Josephine Baker, “Perle Noire: Meditations for Josephine,” was performed on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2017 and his admirers go far beyond the worlds of jazz and classical. Questlove, the Oscar-winning documentarian and drummer for The Roots and “The Tonight Show”, tweeted that Mr. Sorey’s music “makes me want to rehearse 9 hours a day”. The commentary seemed fitting, as Mr. Sorey’s style incorporates rhythms from many types of music, merging them into a single sound.
Just before the Covid-19 lockdowns two years ago, Mr Sorey self-released ‘Unfiltered’, a sizzling recording featuring five newcomers including bassist Nick Dunston and vibraphonist Sasha Berliner. It was powerful and invigorating music, and the band celebrated the release with unusually long two-hour sets at the Jazz Gallery in New York. Now he has upped the ante with the finesse of “Mesmerism”.
The new recording ends with a cheerful version of Duke Ellington’s “REM Blues”, a joyous conclusion in which MM. Brewer and Diehl went wild with enthusiastic support from Mr. Sorey. This underscores that he doesn’t need to go solo to make his distinctive presence felt.
-M. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.
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