The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism

Tyshawn Sorey

Track List

Night and Day
Please Stand By
Chelsea Bridge
Three Little Words
Mob Job
Ask Me Now
Out of Nowhere
Please Stand By
Three Little Words
Jitterbug Waltz
Mob Job
It Could Happen to You
I Remember You
We'll Be Together Again
Out of Nowhere
Ask Me Now

The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism is a blazing three-volume set recorded live at The Jazz Gallery in New York, featuring drummer Tyshawn Sorey’s trio with special guest alto saxophonist Greg Osby. Increasingly celebrated for his notated works in the contemporary classical realm – Sorey was recently called “composer of the year” by The New York Times – and generally associated with the avant-garde, Off-Off Broadway is a return to his musical roots: a celebration of collective improvisation over well-known jazz standards. The album features his trio of pianist Aaron Diehl, well-known for his work as a leader and association with singer Cécile McLorin Salvant; bassist Russell Hall, who has played with Wynton Marsalis and Joey Alexander; and Osby, whose illustrious four-decade long career includes 14 highly-acclaimed releases on the Blue Note record label. One of those, Banned in New York, which captured the rough and tumble of his quartet in a live setting and is considered by many to be among his finest – is an inspiration for this release. Mesmerism, Sorey’s trio foray that was released earlier in 2022, with its curated selection of jazz standards that also features Diehl, is something of a sister release. But whereas that album is elegant, pristine, and jewel-like, The Off-Off Broadway Guide is raw, fiery, and intense. The band plays with wild abandon, careering seamlessly from one song to the next, a true spontaneous combustion of master musicians uniting through the common language of improvisation.

So much has occurred for Sorey since his last Pi release in 2019: The Adornment of Time, his improvising duo with pianist Marilyn Crispell. He has had world premieres of his compositions with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, commissions and performances of his works by Roomful of Teeth, The Crossing, Sandbox Percussion, Alarm Will Sound, Yarn/Wire, violinist Johnny Gandelsman, along with recording and touring with pianist Vijay Iyer’s trio with bassist Linda Oh, performing with his trio featuring guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano, and in duo with DJ King Britt, and was Artist Etoile at this past year’s Lucerne Festival where he premiered his work “For Grachan Moncur III” with the JACK Quartet. On top of all that, Sorey was appointed Presidential Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania.

Upcoming are performances of his works “Be Holding,” a large-scale operatic work with Opera Philadelphia, where he is Composer in Residence; his composition “After Oh, Freedom” for Davone Tines, brass, and percussion; “Perle Noir: Meditations for Josephine” at Dutch National Opera; the U.S. premiere of “Adagio (for Wadada Leo Smith)” with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival; and appearances at the Donaueschingen Contemporary Music Festival, and Darmstädter Ferienkurse, the festival for experimental musical practices. Perhaps most prominent is his composition “Monochromatic Light (Afterlife),” a work commissioned to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Rothko Chapel in Houston. The new work is in conversation with one of Sorey’s great musical inspirations: composer Morton Feldman’s work “Rothko Chapel,” which was composed for the space’s opening celebration in 1972. “Monochromatic Light” was premiered on site in February 2022, and just complete a two-week run of a longer, multi-media and multi-disciplined version in October at The Park Avenue Armory in New York that the New York Times says “affirms how abstraction can give form to suffering and freedom in ways more straightforward expression so often cannot.”

In the midst of that whirlwind of activity, Sorey found time for a five-night stand in March of 2022 at New York’s The Jazz Gallery that is captured on The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism. It’s a stage that is known for presentation of new works and musical experimentation, but in this case, Sorey and his mates dove unabashedly into a program of mostly standards from the jazz canon. With all of his other professional obligations, he has found that there are fewer opportunities for him to just play drums, and even rarer are the occasions to play jazz standards, a practice that he deeply misses. He planned this gig to scratch that itch, and asked Greg Osby – someone whom he considers to be a major influence both as a musician and conceptualist and with whom he’s only played a few times before – to join him. Of course, what transpired was anything but a by-the-books standards gig. According to Sorey, there was hardly any discussion of what was to be played: “All I suggested was a starting point and an ending point, and wherever we went, we went.” Osby quickly proves himself to be the masterful improvisor that he is, with his quicksilver phrasing and surging tone, every solo feels full of chances being taken and crevices being explored. It is clear that he is the boss of these proceedings. The real surprise, though, is Diehl, whose playing typically leans towards the elegant and graceful. Here he dives right into the rough and tumble, playing with an unexpected muscularity and harmonic daring. Sorey plays with his usual tumult, skittering one minute and blasting the group to attention the next, all the while, with bassist Hall, swinging the music forward. The sets are mostly played without breaks, and the musicians stretch these tunes this way and that until all possibilities have seemingly been wrung out of them before they collectively – and seemingly telepathically – move on to the next, all the more astonishing because this particular unit has never played together before. In addition to the sheer audacity of the performance, it is fascinating to listen for the subtle cues and the resulting tension during the transitions as each musician individually figures out that a move is afoot. The title of the release is a play on the fact that many of these songs originated on Broadway or Tin Pan Alley, which was right around the corner from where The Jazz Gallery is located on Broadway, yet, the treatment of these songs takes them so far away from their origins as to be almost unrecognizable. The performance is a magical conjuring of something monumental through the vernacular of jazz improvisation.