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Tyshawn Sorey Takes the Before & After Challenge

Commentary from a trans-idiomatic drummer-composer

Tyshawn Sorey
Tyshawn Sorey

A Newark, N.J., native currently residing in Brooklyn, drummer-composer-pianist Tyshawn Sorey, 31, has emerged as a creative force in recent years as both a leader and as a sideman to the likes of Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer, Wadada Leo Smith, Butch Morris, Muhal Richard Abrams and Dave Douglas. A protégé of composers Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier, both of whom he studied with at Wesleyan University, Sorey released his debut as a leader, the introspective two-CD set That/Not, in 2007 on the Firehouse 12 label. He followed with a minimalist, Zen-like approach to the guitar-bass-drums format on 2009’s Koan (482). His latest, Oblique – I on Pi Recordings, is a typically personal, cerebral affair that explores a wider range of dynamics and complexity than his previous outings. Made up of 10 pieces chosen from a collection of Sorey’s “41 Compositions,” it features alto saxophonist Loren Stillman, guitarist Todd Neufeld, bassist Chris Tordini and pianist John Escreet. “I developed that book of music for this band between 2002 and 2006,” he explains. “The funny thing is, the group stopped performing in 2007, and we only started coming together again just this year. So I was glad to be able to document this music with that group.”

A prolific composer, Sorey doesn’t distinguish between his writing and his work behind the kit. “It’s all in one package,” he says. “And even as a drummer I try to have a composerly intent. There are so many drummer-composers who came before me who are very important for me, and yet not a lot of people talk about them-people like Joe Chambers and Freddie Waits, for instance. People talk about their drumming but not their compositional output. So I think there needs to be some sort of development for drummer-composers to be able to present their work, sort of like what has been going on with FONT [Festival of New Trumpet Music]. Because too many times we’re often looked at as sidemen, or not musicians at all. For me, that’s not what I’m going for.”

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