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The Shape-Shifting Music of Tyshawn Sorey

Sorey first won notice as a drummer, in the early two-thousands, playing and recording with the pianist Vijay Iyer and the saxophonist Steve Lehman, among others. Few improvising percussionists can draw such a mesmerizing range of timbres from standard equipment, and few are more skilled in using transitions and contrasts to propel a musical narrative. Sorey is capable of effects of elemental power: for example, tattooing on a drum with one hand while agitating a cymbal with the other, a mallet clutched in his teeth so that, in the next moment, he can bash a gong behind him. More often, though, he is a poet of quiet. Impressionistic daubs of sound—a soft strike on the center of a cymbal, a tap on the edge of a drum, a scrape of a stick across a drumhead—conjure a sense of limitless space.

As a composer, Sorey is unpredictable to the point of being unnerving. Two duos on the Miller program—“Ornations,” for flute and clarinet, and “Bertha’s Lair,” for flute and drums—tended toward antic, rapid-fire exchanges, as if providing accompaniment for an avant-garde cartoon. Although “Ornations” is meticulously notated, it often has the feeling of an unhinged improvisation, with instrumental sounds augmented by vocalizations, including a few screams and growls. “Bertha’s Lair” leaves more to the discretion of the performers, yet this performance—with Sorey on drums and Chase switching between piccolo, C flute, and contrabass flute—unfolded like an impeccably choreographed routine. The title comes from Chase’s nickname for her monstrous contrabass instrument, which stands five and a half feet tall.

Counterbalancing those hyperkinetic inventions were studies in meditative stillness. “In Memoriam Muhal Richard Abrams,” a tribute to one of A.A.C.M.’s prime movers, is a delicate, ghostly duo for violin and celesta, with the violinist’s bow often barely brushing against the strings. The trio “For Harold

Article source: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/22/the-shape-shifting-music-of-tyshawn-sorey

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