Catching Up With…

Tyshawn Sorey

The top-call jazzer’s output is a never-ending tribute to making the most of whatever materials are at hand. His latest solo collection continues the trend.

by Kevin Micallef

Performing at the New York City club the Stone with pianist Dave Burrell and bassist Henry Grimes, Tyshawn Sorey is showing just how inventive he’s willing to get to propel the trio’s furious avant-jazz. With his drums positioned in front of the club’s bathroom, Sorey grabs the door with his left hand and begins pushing it back and forth, using the resultant squeak as yet one more weapon in his surprising arsenal.

“We think of an alloy as a mixture of materials,” says Sorey, whose latest album, Alloy—his fourth as a leader—uses elements like dynamics, through-composition, and improvisation in unique ways. “I thought of this whole composite sound world for the album, and the materials we put together were so strong it creates this energy that is stronger than the music itself. It’s the integration of all these seemingly disparate materials that don’t belong together but when mixed together as a whole have a very strong bond.”

Sorey often uses strings and near silence to make his point on his solo albums; on Alloy, rubato piano and controlled drumming create feelings of languor, bliss, chaos, and stasis. In “Template,” a Jabo Starks–meets-Autechre groove buzzes against floating piano and bass. “I changed a lot on that piece,” Sorey says. “I changed textures using a mallet in one hand and muting the snare drum with paper. On the louder parts I’m playing with a [nylon-tip] stick and a wallet on the snare drum.”

Playing Pork Pie drums, Istanbul Agop 30th Anniversary cymbals (including 16″ hi-hats), and Vic Firth sticks, Sorey makes the most of his tools—including that squeaking door at the Stone. “I know the Stone well,” he says, “so I’m thinking about what sounds are possible and what sounds are not. And how can I achieve those sounds? If you have the material, anything is possible.

“Back in 1998 I was rehearsing for a trombone gig with Max Roach in Newark,” multi-instrumentalist Sorey recalls, continuing his train of thought. “Max did the entire rehearsal with only a floor tom and a pair of brushes. It was fascinating. That forced me to begin playing only a ride cymbal to get my time together, and I became interested in the acoustic properties of the cymbal. That led to thinking about the drums as beyond an instrument you just hit. It’s a rhythm-and-sound instrument. You start listening for overtones and you gain an understanding of what the drum shell does. I learned a lot of from the experience playing with Max.”