4 stars on November's Downbeat Magazine
Tyshawn Sorey’s previous two albums as a leader showcased him as a budding composer, which wouldn’t haven been frustrating were he not so startlingly gifted behind the drums. 2009’s Koan was more indebted to minimalist crusader Morton Feldman than anything found within the pages of Modern Drummer. In that regard, Oblique–I is a mild revelation— the first full-length to feature him wearing both hats. Here we get a taste of the lean and lightning quick stickwork deployed as a member of bands lead by both Steve Coleman and Steve Lehman, yet its Sorey’s compositional skills that unequivocally remain the focus. On one tune, “Eighteen,” he sits out completely, instead entrusting his ideas to alto saxophonist Loren Stillman.
That’s not the only track on which traces of his last album linger. “Eight” is similarly spare from the onset, punctuated by pianist John Escreet’s dissonant chords, chiming like a broken alarm clock as Stillman’s alto warbles tenuously. The Derek Bailey-esque shards of Todd Neufeld’s acoustic guitar on “Seventeen” are no less ominous. Stoking the suspense with meticulously choreographed shifts of mood, the supporting cast carries out these often affectless meditations like marionettes bound to Sorey’s drumsticks.
The current Ph.D candidate built a repertoire for this quintet over a period of four years, collected under the unambiguous banner 41 Compositions, and the ten numeric titles included here give some sense of the academic weight they contain. Drums are used to accent and color these knotty improvisations but never anything more than necessary. Sorey wants it known that he’s a conceptualist first and a percussionist second. —Areif Sless-Kitain - November 2011 - DownBeat Magazine
John Escreet piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer piano
Todd Neufeld electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Tyshawn Sorey drums
Loren Stillman alto saxophone
Christopher Tordini bass