Tyshawn Sorey is the type of multi-instrumentalist and all-around musical force (composer, arranger, conductor, sideman and leader) that it’s nearly impossible for us mere mortals to wrap our thinking-gear around it really. There he is behind the kit making strange, alluring shapes with an improv legend like Roscoe Mitchell or re-inventing post-bop yet again as part of an ensemble with Vijay Iyer, bridging acoustic-electro compositions with space and colour as part of the Skjold/Højensgård Project and yet with his own compositions – you’d barely know anything about him being a drummer, most of the time.
His 2007 album of composition That / Not remains something of a blueprint for his approach, though from there the shapes and sounds are of course ever-evolving. But there’s a 42-minute solo piano work (Permutations For Solo Piano) on That / Not which seems to be something of a business card for Sorey’s understanding of time and space and place – there he is draping a set of piano chords over silence, finding new ways to space and phrase them, stretching micro-fragments of time to forge a hypnotic bond between predictability, grace, mathematics and art.
With Pillars think of that single piece and stretch it even further. Add musicians and extra instruments – it’s basically bigger, broader, a wider canvas, a larger screen, but the same extreme focus. The same craft. The same commitment to living inside the piece while it’s happening, to move and make in a trance-like state with a trance-like piece the end-goal.
Pillars is three CDs of material stretching to nearly four hours in total. Like Max Richter’s Sleep you can dip (or not) in and out of it, unlike Max Richter’s Sleep this is more for waking hours, though I’ve lived with it enough to enjoy it in my headphones as part of a relaxation tonic, part of a way to drift in and out of lucidity.
Pillars begins with a lengthy drum-roll, Sorey, in his drum-role reminding you that it’s one of his primary instruments I guess, but it also serves as statement of foundation. From there as these pillars are built, are placed, we’ll hear from Sorey across several instruments (his usual trombone and piano) including the dungchen (or Tibetan horn, a low-blower), but he’s also the conductor of this work, or set of works, and it’s hard to know entirely how much of this is through-composed or charted, how much is the result of ensemble improvisation. That’s another of Sorey’s great musical themes really, the blend and blur of improvisation with studied composing.
And here he has some legends of that type of crafting, in particular guitarist Joe Morris. He shadows and circles, his guitar a sound effect, a subtle tool for propulsion…next thing…EXPLOSION! Shards of late-60s blistering jazz-noise, the evocation of Sonny Sharrock.
Doing a similar thing with the horns and wind is Stephen Haynes (trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, alto horn).
Pillars comes from and brings together the worlds of free-jazz, modern classical, drone, experimentation and minimalism. It is all at once far too much to take in and a soft, enchanting new world of its own, a set of pathways. It is simply far too big, too long, too enormous (in concept as well as execution) for many to handle. I think that’s what I admire most about it. Sorey stretches time to suit himself. His compositions live in their own space. As you drift in and out along with them, you can almost see and hear and feel the musicians that make these pieces doing much the same.
It’s art. It’s music. It’s profound. It’s so clearly not for everyone.
What I’ve found most with this staggering set of musical enormities is that it is a world of its own. A set of worlds. An escape.
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