Tyshawn Sorey

Track List

Reincarnation Blues
Angel Eyes
In What Direction Are You Headed

Continuing is drummer Tyshawn Sorey’s highly-anticipated follow-up to Mesmerism and The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism, his two critically-acclaimed 2022 release that features this avowed avant-gardist’s surprising forays into classic, swinging jazz. Those two releases were voted #4 and #5 best albums of the year, respectively, in the annual Francis Davis Jazz Poll of over 150 jazz critics. In two 4 ½ Star reviews, Downbeat called Mesmerism “wonderfully simple, yet breathtakingly deep” and Off-Off Broadway (featuring saxophonist Greg Osby) “music robust enough to have you believe the energy generated by the group is its own discrete force.” Though Continuingfeatures the same musicians as on Mesmerism – Sorey on drums, pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Matt Brewer – the result could not be more different. While the performances on the earlier release are mostly neatly-contained, Continuing is expansive, with its four long tracks given room to breathe deeply, allowing the musicians to explore crevices and possibilities while maintaining the performances’ attention to melody, groove, swing, and the blues.

In many ways, Continuing is a counterbalance to Sorey’s other recent artistic output: a respite from the compulsion to create new works such as “Monochromatic Light (Afterlife),” which was named a 2022 Pulitzer Prize Finalist. It is, however, no less the height of artistic achievement. The performances on Continuing are masterful and unforced, played with an honesty and spontaneity that get at the music’s emotional core. The album is dedicated to pianist Harold Mabern, an important mentor to Sorey who passed away in 2019 and is a central influence for the entire recording. His composition “In What Direction Are You Headed,” which originally appeared on Lee Morgan’s eponymous final album, closes this program. With the recent passing of Wayne Shorter and Ahmad Jamal – whose respective compositions “Reincarnation Blues” (from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ Buhaina’s Delight) and “Seleritus” (from Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal) appear on the album – Continuing became a de facto homage to all three. According to Sorey, Mabern, whom Sorey studied with at William Paterson University, “knew that even though I was coming out of the tradition and playing with cats who did that stuff for real, I was growing increasingly restless with that style while getting more into free/avant-garde music.” Once, on a bus heading into New York City, “he told me that if I wanted to really know about freedom and how to make the music swing hard and feel good, to go listen to Ahmad Jamal. The first record that did it for me was Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal and when I listened to that, a whole other window of virtuosity was on display – DISCIPLINE! And that taught me this: if you can’t even play music with some form of discipline, then you have no concept of so-called freedom whatsoever. Listening to Jamal was as if he were literally speaking to me as he ‘spoke’ in complete sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. His solos alone are complete, well-thought-out spontaneous compositions. Everything he played had a thread; there was meaning and purpose for everything that was happening.”

It was with that same ambition that Sorey approached Continuing. The mood is inspired by the McCoy Tyner album Night of Ballads & Blues, with an emphasis on getting deeper into the music and its feel rather than clever arrangements and flashy solos. The original plan was to record ten compositions, but the result was only four long, profound performances. According to Sorey: “I wanted to create an environment where the music can really breathe and focus more on the way that the three of us interact, with space for us to just sit for a moment, and they just naturally ended up being the length they were.” There is a quiet intensity to the album, with deliberate playing and no wasted notes. The arrangements, which were conceived during the recording session, are like huge roadmaps filled with infinite possibilities, relying on the musicians’ composerly instincts to deliver their narrative cohesion. The group recorded only one or two takes of each, with the first take usually chosen. “Angel Eyes,” with its subtle modulations and glacial tempo that requires laser-focused concentration proved to be the most challenging. Rather than just playing pointillistic daubs of color, Sorey leans into a deep groove, magnifying its simmering intensity in spite its languorous pace and low volume – a feat of musical wizardry.

Sorey’s multi-faceted artistry continues apace. He just completed a week-long run of his widely-acclaimed work “Perle Noire: Meditations for Josephine” at the Dutch National Opera, and performed with his trio featuring Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano at the Big Ears Festival. His “Be Holding” – created in collaboration with poet Ross Gay and director Brooke O’Harra and featuring the music ensemble Yarn/Wire – a work inspired by basketball player Julius “Dr. J” Irving’s iconic basketball play in the 1980 NBA finals, will see its premiere in Philadelphia in May. In addition, there is the forthcoming premiere of a new work commissioned by the Time of Music Festival in Finland to be performed by the London Sinfonietta; an upcoming collaboration with artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa as part of Sorey’s Composer in Residence program at Opera Philadelphia; premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival featuring music for choral group The Crossing, directed by Donald Nally; and an operatic collaboration with hip hop artist Akua Naru for Ensemble Resonanz that will premiere in 2025 in Hamburg. Sorey will also be appearing at the Donaueschingen Contemporary Music Festival, and Darmstädter Ferienkurse, the festival for experimental musical practices, in addition to continuing as a member of the Vijay Iyer trio. Rounding things out, Sorey will be the Spring 2024 Fromm Visiting Professor at Harvard University, followed by a residency at Peabody Conservatory, while also working as the Presidential Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania. Continuing is yet another facet of Sorey’s ever-unpredictable and manifold artistry.