Daniel Stephen Johnson was born in the desert and learned to play the violin. After studying viola and English at the University of Southern California, he wrote fiction at Columbia University. Then he moved to Connecticut, where he worked at a record shop and wrote about music, literature and comedy for the New Haven Advocate and the Believer. Now he lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and works as a sheet music salesman in Queens.
Tyshawn Sorey Composes Chaos in 'The Inner Spectrum of Variables'
Monday, August 15, 2016
Tyshawn Sorey's new album, The Inner Spectrum of Variables, is so surprising that any review should come with spoiler warnings. Six movements, give or take, it unfolds according to an unaccountable logic that collapses musical styles from vastly different cultures and eras into a single, coherent two-hour piece of chamber music.
A gently warped Beethoven pastiche collapses into sunny diatonicism; a Romantic cadenza stretches out into a long, improvisatory modal interlude. Even the timescale of the piece shifts according to the necessities of the form, the piece now pushing forward through Western-style moments of sentimental affect, now lingering to explore the patterns generated by the overtones of slowly moving dissonances.
Sorey's Inner Spectrum exploits the resources of his Double Trio, an all-star sextet marrying the traditional jazz piano trio lineup — piano, drums, bass — to the violin, viola, cello lineup of the classical string trio. The former trio is marked by a profoundly sensitive musicality, led by conductor/percussionist Sorey himself, while Corey Smythe of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) handles the keys and bassist Christopher Tordini of the Claudia Quintet plumbs the low end; the string trio links together the highly distinctive talents of violinist Chern Hwei Fung of the Sirius Quartet, violist Kyle Armbrust (also ICE) and cellist Rubin Kodheli (Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk).
But the roles of the two trios are hardly confined by genre, and often blurred. Smythe's material tends towards the neoclassical, Tordini often jumps ship to play with the other strings, and Kodheli proves especially adept at improvisation — or what sounds like improvisation. With players this lively and music so gorgeously structured, it can become difficult to distinguish between notated and extemporaneous solos, or between composed chaos and highly controlled improvisation.
Somehow, as the work seemingly rambles through modernistic pointillism, tight jazz syncopations, and classical allusion, the listener senses that every unpredictable event is nevertheless another step towards a single musical purpose; every style is somehow groomed by a single sensibility. Sorey's vision goes far beyond the horizon, toward a distant point where all of these arcs invisibly converge.
Tyshawn Sorey: The Inner Spectrum of Variables
Pi Recordings | Released June 3