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Tyshawn Sorey/Marilyn Crispell - The Adornment of Time Music Album Reviews

Tyshawn Sorey/Marilyn Crispell - The Adornment of Time Music Album Reviews
A live recording from New York’s the Kitchen captures a rare kind of improv synergy between the versatile composer-percussionist and a pianist who rose to fame in Anthony Braxton’s quartet.

The composer and multi-instrumentalist Tyshawn Sorey has been spoiling audiences in a variety of jazz and classical scenes over the last few years. It’s easy to assume that he’s always in a recording studio somewhere: documenting his excellent trio; working as a percussionist in bands led by colleagues like Vijay Iyer and Steve Lehman; producing expansive, multi-hour pieces that engage with drone-music mysticism. But that substantial discography is hardly the whole story.
His recent song cycle, “Cycles of My Being,” was written for the tenor Lawrence Brownlee (and has played at Carnegie Hall and Opera Philadelphia). A 2018 appearance at New York’s Jazz Gallery, during which Sorey performed on a modified piano alongside the saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh, was a reminder that his work as a keyboardist has not been given enough attention. A few months later, a production of Sorey’s dramatic work inspired by Josephine Baker, with a text by Claudia Rankine, proved mesmerizing on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s grand staircase.

Yet even as his reach has broadened, Sorey has also kept working in more intimate formats. His latest record, a duo set with the veteran pianist Marilyn Crispell, is a freely improvised meeting recorded live at the Kitchen, a longtime New York experimental haven.

The album’s first act—particularly its first 20 minutes—is dominated by hushed and haunted timbres from both players. Approximately half an hour in, we get the first hint of tumult, a mood that develops, thrashes around, crests, and subsides over another quarter hour. An extended, closing coda brings to mind the beginning section while also highlighting the distance these performers have traveled.

On the surface, this might seem a standard free-improv sequence, and therefore less notable than Sorey’s hyper-conceptual projects. But this composer lives to mess with surface-level thinking. And thanks to his distaste for categorizing music—particularly when it comes to genre definitions—listeners should always be prepared for ambition and thoughtfulness, no matter the format.

Not surprisingly, across this unbroken 64-minute improvisation Crispell proves to be an ideal partner for such a non-hierarchical musical mind. Her own rise to prominence came, during the 1980s, as the pianist in saxophonist and composer Anthony Braxton’s “classic” quartet (a group whose recordings Sorey remembers admiring as a teen in the liner notes for this album).

During those vintage, marathon performances, preserved on albums like Quartet (Birmingham) 1985, Crispell often played one of Braxton’s notated solo-piano pieces while the band’s other members played parts from other Braxton works. The collage-style results tended to be bracing, but always in a musical fashion—in part due to Crispell’s keen ability for listening intently amid a whirlwind.

Crispell’s responsiveness is still in elite, extraordinary shape here. Her percussive, avant-jazz technique gets plenty of room to roam during a section of high-drama pummeling; check out the swinging density she produces 34 minutes into the set.

But her feel for momentum is also present during many of the performance's quieter passages, during which the pianist’s ideas clearly inspire choices made by the drummer. (It helps that Sorey’s kit is outfitted with gongs and other forms of pitched percussion, the better to merge with melodies coming from Crispell’s instrument.) In these moments, The Adornment of Time doesn’t merely present two talented musicians in a room, improvising at the same time. Instead, the album makes good on ideals at the heart of the free-improv tradition—including equality and adaptiveness—that are often paid lip service, if not always easily heard.

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