Violinist/composer Jennifer Curtis and multi-instrumentalist/composer Tyshawn Sorey have been performing as a duo for several years, as an outgrowth of a collaboration that initiated from their work together in the International Contemporary Ensemble. This dynamic release captures their powerfully expressive improvisations over eight contrasting tracks, reflecting their compositional sensibilities in a spontaneous context.
“Invisible Ritual” captures the synergistic collaboration between violinist/composer Jennifer Curtis and multi-instrumentalist/composer Tyshawn Sorey, and is an outgrowth of work they have done within the context of the wide ranging programming of the International Contemporary Ensemble. The eight tracks heard here are all freely improvised, yet categorizing them as free improvisation suggests a soundworld that they do not inhabit exclusively. Both musicians bring their compositional sensibilities to spontaneously generated structures, intuitively guiding their way through material that consistently demonstrates their virtuosity across diverse stylistic territory.
Jennifer Curtis brings a unique vocabulary to her improvised work, informed by a rich background in fiddling and folkloric traditions including Americana music (bluegrass, blues, old time) as well as Eastern European and South American traditions. Her voracious interest in global musical styles is complemented by her lush, lyrical Romantic violin playing and an approach to the language of contemporary music that highlights gesture and character. Sorey’s prodigious artistry extends from his work on drumset and percussion to his piano playing, and draws on his equally diverse vocabularies, from static, textural work in the mode of Feldman, to percolating, off-kilter rhythmic passages, to cascading harmonies driven forward by deft voice leading.
We can hear the fiddling influence in Curtis’ playing most prominently in tracks I, II, IV, and the latter half of VII, as she turns around vernacular motives as if solving a Rubix cube, adjusting their syntax while looking at them from several angles. Sorey’s accompanimental approach to this material is often to create several layers of rhythmic and textural activity, providing a three dimensional frame for Curtis’ gestural deconstruction. III opens with disembodied piano chords, evolving glacially as Curtis adds subtle commentary. Eventually, accumulated subterranean pressure rises to the fore with furious arpeggios in the violin and rumbling chords in the bass. VI is a tender, deeply felt ballad, with Curtis playing melancholic lines and violinistic figuration over a neo-romantic harmonic palette in the piano. Hints of the blues quickly dissolve into pastels and dark hued voicings.
V hears Sorey and Curtis skittering around chromatic outbursts, brief ponticello and pizzicato asides, before leading into heavily wrought violin double stops and swirling piano passages surrounding a central pitch. This piece is perhaps the most schizophrenic of the collection, journeying to several musical destinations within its nearly eleven minute duration, and closing with a trade off of jagged punctuations. VIII finishes the album with an extended ritualistic coda over tolling gongs. Curtis plays a prayerful incantation of melancholy melodic lines, airy trills, whistling harmonics, and pizzicati with glissandi that evoke East Asian plucked instruments. The piece ends with several declamatory gong strikes, as Sorey mediates the speed of their resonant beatings. “Invisible Ritual” lives at the intersection of improvisation and spontaneous composition (if there is in fact a distinction between the two at all), capturing dynamic, poignant performances by two uncategorizable musicians who consistently defy labels.
– D. Lippel
The New York Times described violinist Jennifer Curtis’s second solo concert in Carnegie Hall as “one of the gutsiest and most individual recital programs.” She was celebrated as “an artist of keen intelligence and taste, well worth watching out for.”
Curtis navigates with personality and truth in every piece she performs. Jennifer is a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and founder of the group Tres Americas Ensemble. She has appeared as a soloist with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Venezuela and the Knights Chamber Orchestra; performed in Romania in honor of George Enescu; given world premieres at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York; collaborated with composer John Adams at the Library of Congress; and appeared at El Festival de las Artes Esénias in Peru and festivals worldwide.
An educator with a focus on music as humanitarian aid, Jennifer has also collaborated with musical shaman of the Andes, improvised for live radio from the interior of the Amazon jungle, and taught and collaborated with Kurdish refugees in Turkey.
Newark-born multi-instrumentalist and composer Tyshawn Sorey (b. 1980) is celebrated for his incomparable virtuosity, effortless mastery and memorization of highly complex scores, and an extraordinary ability to blend composition and improvisation in his work. He has performed nationally and internationally with his own ensembles, as well as artists such as John Zorn, Vijay Iyer, Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Wadada Leo Smith, Marilyn Crispell, George Lewis, Claire Chase, Steve Coleman, Steve Lehman, Robyn Schulkowsky, Evan Parker, Anthony Braxton, and Myra Melford, among many others.
The New York Times has praised Sorey for his instrumental facility and aplomb, “he plays not only with gale-force physicality, but also a sense of scale and equipoise”; The Wall Street Journal notes Sorey is, “a composer of radical and seemingly boundless ideas.” The New Yorker recently noted that Sorey is “among the most formidable denizens of the in-between zone…An extraordinary talent who can see across the entire musical landscape.”
Sorey has received support for his creative projects from The Jerome Foundation, The Shifting Foundation, Van Lier Fellowship, and was recently named a 2017 MacArthur fellow. The Spektral Quartet, Ojai Music Festival, and International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) have commissioned his works, which exemplify a penchant for a thorough exploration of the intersection between improvisation and composition. Sorey also collaborates regularly with ICE as a percussionist and resident composer. Future commissions include a residency at the Berlin Jazz Festival and Carnegie Hall’s 125 Commissions Project in partnership with Opera Philadelphia supporting a new work for tenor Lawrence Brownlee addressing themes associated with Black Lives Matter.
As a leader, Sorey has released seven critically acclaimed recordings that feature his work as a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and conceptualist. His latest, Pillars (Firehouse 12 Records, 2018), has been praised by Rolling Stone as “an immersive soundworld… sprawling, mysterious… thrilling” and has been named as one of BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction 2018 albums of the year.
In 2012, he was selected as one of nine composers for the Other Minds Festival, where he exchanged ideas with such like-minded peers as Ikue Mori, Ken Ueno, and Harold Budd. In 2013, Jazz Danmark invited him to serve as the Danish International Visiting Artist. He was a 2015 recipient of the Doris Duke Impact Award. Sorey has taught and lectured on composition and improvisation at Columbia University, The New School, The Banff Centre, Wesleyan University, International Realtime Music Symposium, Hochschule für Musik Köln, Berklee College of Music, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and The Danish Rhythmic Conservatory. His work has been premiered at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, Ojai Music Festival, The Kitchen, Walt Disney Hall, Roulette, Issue Project Room, and the Stone, among many other established venues and festivals.
As of Fall 2017 he has held the role of Assistant Professor of Composition and Creative Music at Wesleyan University, where he received his Masters degree in Composition in 2011.