HOLIDAY CONTEST #1: Tyshawn Sorey


Tyshawn Sorey
Oblique – 1
Pi Recordings : 2011

TS, drums; Loren Stillman, alto sax; Todd Neufeld, electric guitar; John Escreet, piano; Chris Tordini, bass.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a contest on the site, so this holiday season we’re doing two giveaways. We’re proud to kick things off by offering a brand new copy of one our favorite releases of the year: Tyshawn Sorey’s Oblique – I.

Tyshawn’s latest effort unleashes his formidable drumming abilities – previously heard with Steve Lehman, Fieldwork, and Steve Coleman – and combines them with his sophisticated compositions. We’ve selected the album highlight “Fifteen” to showcase the dynamic and nuanced band music that’s typical of Oblique – I. Scroll down to read our interview with Tyshawn about the process that led to this remarkable music.

Our thanks to the fine folks at Pi Recordings for providing this booty. Check out their current sale to pick up some of their other fine releases.

Tyshawn Sorey's Obliquity, with Loren Stillman, 2005. Photo: Peter Gannushkin.


We are thinking of a number between 1 and 100. Put your guess in the comments of this post. One guess only and please try not to duplicate other selections; check through the comments before entering. Contest deadline: Midnight EST, Friday, Dec. 16th. The person who nails our number — or comes closest — wins. Good luck!

We are also giving away a copy Oblique – I over at our Facebook page. The only requirement there is that you “like” the page before entering. Same basic format, only a wider number range there: 1 to 200. Feel free to enter both! And just by the way, you can now like the D:O Facebook page without leaving the comfy confines of; see at far right, under Like someone in love.

Destination: OUT: The music on Oblique – I is from a book of music you call 41 Compositions. How did these pieces come to be?

Tyshawn Sorey: Before I began working on this material, most of my compositions exercised more “traditional” methodologies related to so-called jazz form (AABA, a blues, etc.), and the improvisations took place only over these forms. Part of this was because I was enrolled at William Paterson University at the time, and many of my compositions were not performed because they were perceived to be “too difficult.” Because of the limits surrounding school ensemble rehearsal time, what was rehearsed was never given a chance to be played successfully. I then became very discouraged with composing and felt like giving it up completely; after all, I wasn’t totally interested in being a composer at the time; I thought of myself as mostly a drummer with these cute little jazz pieces. That music meant nothing to me at that time, and I felt that no one was going to pay much attention to the new music I was working on anyway. What was happening around me (outside of jazz school) was what I heard in my head, and NOT that other stuff I was composing. I needed to get more inside of myself, so to speak — first and foremost.

About nine months later, I met Anthony Braxton at multi-reedist/composer Andre Vida’s Child Reel Eyes recording session, after which we spent some time discussing our various musical interests. Braxton encouraged me to compose music that reflected the full breadth of my influences. At that time, I was already interested in the works by the New York School, Schoenberg, Boulez, Stockhausen, Xenakis, as well as Karnatic, Bulgarian, and West African music. Braxton gave me the inspiration to compose music that was truly mine and to explore an alternative harmonic language. I began integrating 12-tone principles, indeterminacy, variable form, multi-tiered time cycles, “blurred” downbeats/counterpoint, pitch avoidance principles (vertical structuring), and more elaborate approaches to form. Forty-one pieces have been composed to date.

How did you get this music off the ground?

TS: Let me mention a person who is of prime importance to this music – alto saxophonist Loren Stillman, who has been performing this music since the project’s inception. When I first got to know him, I thought, wow, here’s a saxophonist who not only wants to play challenging creative music, but also wants to put in the time to work on my stuff in the level that it deserves to be dealt with. The first performance of this music took place with Loren during my senior recital at William Paterson University, which went okay, but I realized that I needed to find more musicians who I felt could handle the musical material. In the beginning the bassist Carlo DeRosa and pianist Carl Maguire were instrumental in helping me develop this music. Later I worked regularly with the musicians on this CD: guitarist Todd Neufeld, pianist John Escreet, and bassist Chris Tordini, along with numerous others, including pianist Russ Lossing and saxophonist Pete Robbins. Not only could all these guys perform music with manifold levels of complexity, but, because they are so musical, the mistakes they made playing their parts turned out to be exactly what I wanted in the first place! We performed regularly at Zebulon Café Concert in Brooklyn from 2004 to 2006, where the music really took form.

You’ve often talked about the need for some level of indeterminacy in your performances. What are some of the ways that happens?

TS: At Zebulon, we took a sort of non-formal approach to the music, where we’d take all of these chances with the material. As a band, we’ve learned how make music happen together where “mistakes” transform the music into something greater and meaningful. These errors bring an energy to the music that could not have been achieved had all of the parts been played correctly from start to finish. And even though it may have seemed stressful on the bandstand, I’d like to think that we still had some fun and that we gave a strong program of music to people. We’d often present this music in one long set -– sometimes lasting over two hours -– where forms of the songs became variable. Sometimes we would even play two or more compositions simultaneously. I’m working on developing a cueing system for this, because I do favor this approach to the music more than how we do it now (which is to play a piece from beginning to end). This is a music that does not merely blur the lines between composition and improvisation; my eventual hope is to get rid of that line, completely. I’m wondering what that would sound like.

Category contests, Tyshawn Sorey