To be mesmerized is to be hypnotized, which I’ve been when listening to the dense music of 42-year-old drummer/composer/academic Tyshawn Sorey. An astute and perhaps visionary musical thinker, Sorey once told me he enjoyed the music of Henry Mancini and Columbo television soundtracks as much as “serious” music. Having seen him blister improvisational music around Manhattan before taking his chair at Wesleyan, I nevertheless found Sorey’s earlier albums, including Oblique – I, Alloy, The Inner Spectrum of Variables, and Verisimilitude, a tough if enlightening journey. I always wanted to hear Sorey play on record as I’d heard him live.
That wish has been granted. Somewhat.
Joined by pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Matt Brewer, the Sorey of Mesmerism is closer to the Sorey I remember: unvarnished, swinging, playful, his natural state one of turbulently original ideas, abrupt juxtapositions, surprising punctuations, and unerring sensitivity.
Horace Silver’s “Enchantment” finds Sorey banging half-time bell patterns, funky tom drops, and rambunctious snare-drum punches and rolls. His approach still includes a lot of space, as in “Detour Ahead” (Herb Ellis), for which the drummer deftly pitter-patters cymbals, evolving into full-set punctuations over an expanding performance. “Autumn Leaves” is pleasant. Paul Motian’s “From Time to Time” unfurls almost secretly (as does most of the album), followed by Muhal Richard Abrams’ “Two Over One.” It’s performed midtempo, thankfully, Diehl’s lovely cascades embellished with Sorey’s tonal beauty: shimmering cymbals, rich snare atmospheres, resonant kit work, truly orchestral drumming. The advance closes with Ellington’s “REM Blues,” a blues swinger, Sorey’s bubbly snare drum shuffling alongside Diehl’s lovely notes and Brewer’s insightful swing.
It’s still not Sorey with Dave Burrell at the Stone, but he’s showing a little more leg, and for that, we’re grateful.Originally Published