A new approach to the standard

Tyshawn Sorey and Greg Osby explores the rhythmic possibilities of standard songs on this new live triple album.

Tyshawn Sorey – The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism (Pi, 2022)

Greg Osby, alto saxophone; Aaron Diehl, piano; Russell Hall, bass; Tyshawn Sorey, drums

Who is the leader on this date? The album cover says drummer Tyshawn Sorey known for his experimental compositions and for his work with pianist Vijay Iyer. Well-known alto saxophonist Greg Osby is twenty years his senior and many of the standard songs played on this album has been recorded by him previously. Well, it does not matter since the keyword here is synergy. It is how this quartet performs together which makes this album interesting.

I would describe this band’s approach to the standard songs they play as a kind of counterpoint in time. It is perhaps most obvious on Nardis by Miles Davis where the rhythm section plays a fast, pulsating beat while Osby plays cool melodious legato lines somewhat reminiscent of how pianist Bill Evans played the song with his classic trio with Scott La Faro and Paul Motian.

This approach to rhythm is apparent throughout the album. On some songs they start coherently but often drifts apart into different units. Sometimes Sorey will keep a fast beat while Hall slows down, and Sorey himself plays so independently in different time signatures with his different limbs that he will sound like more than one drummer.

Of course, they also explore the songs harmonic and melodious qualities but I think that their rhythmic interplay is key to understand this music.

Hearing the tradition in a new way

The material will be well-known to most jazz fans. They play standard songs like Three Little Words and Out of Nowhere associated with saxophonists like Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Sonny Rollins who gave jazz new rhythmic and harmonic possibilities.

The quartet also plays songs by famous jazz composers like Fats Waller, Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, McCoy Tyner, and Andrew Hill which they all deconstruct rhythmically in one way or another. On Contemplation pianist Diehl echoes Tyner’s grand romantic approach but soon the band’s quicksilver approach to rhythm takes the ecstatic hymn to new different places while it remains  Tyner’s identifiable original melody.

I very much like this album recorded live at the Jazz Gallery in New York. The standard song has often been used in jazz to achieve new breakthroughs in rhythmic and harmonic approaches and I think this band is reaching for something similar. They most certainly have me hearing the songs they have recorded on this album in new ways.

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