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Jazz - Released February 24, 2012 | ACT Music

Distinctions Le top 6 JAZZ NEWS - The Qobuz Standard
It's almost impossible not to consider Accelerando by pianist Vijay Iyer's working trio with bassist Stephen Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore a companion to 2009's excellent Historicity. Its obvious similarities are that it places a handful of originals alongside a host of cover versions. These come from well-known artists from the worlds of jazz, 21st century dance music, and R&B. But there are key differences, too: for starters, this trio has been together longer; nowhere does that matter more than it does in jazz. The intuitive interplay and collective mindset that this trio possesses are exponentially more mature than they were on Historicity, despite its sharpness and musical acumen. The willingness to take chances is greater, as is the ability to make those risks pay off. Take the reading of "Human Nature," a tune recorded by Michael Jackson for the iconic Thriller. The melody is irresistible and Iyer maintains its framework while he builds on it by syncopating, extrapolating, and coloring it so that it becomes rich with complexity and textures, all the while keeping its melodic integrity. The rhythmic pulse is doubled on the snare, hi-hat, and bass drum. Crump's bass accompanies rather than propels, so his bass is where the groove lies. Heatwave's "The Star of a Story" is likewise melodically intact, but its rhythmic basics are set on a groove that finds funk in waltz time. Iyer discovers subtleties and hidden harmonic corners in his middle register that are remarkable to anyone familiar with the tune. "Mmmhmm," by Flying Lotus and singing bassist Thundercat, is realized with bowed basslines by Crump that both accompany the melody and state it, sparse chordal suggestions by Iyer in the higher register, and a gradually increasing vamp by Gilmore (that sounds like a defective loop because of its intentional slippage), all of which enchant the listener enough to provide Iyer the opportunity to solo using knotty clusters of post-bop dissonance and lyricism. Herbie Nichols' "Wildflower" swings hard with its lean angular line accenting his use of the piano as both a palette of tonal colors and a rhythm instrument. Iyer's own tunes, such as the title track and "Lude," reveal an extensive, purposeful build on jazz history from Thelonious Monk (in the latter) to the future (in the former), where dynamic repetition and gradually complex harmonic multiplications result from simple beginnings. What's most remarkable about these tunes, and the others here, are how consciously danceable they are. The set closes with Duke Ellington's "The Village of the Virgins," from his and Alvin Ailey's jazz ballet entitled The River. The river is obviously the Mississippi; gospel, blues, early jazz, swing, and even 1940s R&B make their voices heard in a nearly processional strut. The trio's interplay takes the structure -- originally performed by a jazz orchestra -- and boils it down to its essences, leaving space for nuance, grace, and elegance. Accelerando is a triumph in creativity and expert musicianship, and further underscores Iyer's status as a genuine jazz innovator. © Thom Jurek. /TiVo
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Jazz - Released August 27, 2010 | ACT Music

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
Vijay Iyer's first solo album is structured in three movements, not unlike a recital. It begins with four interpretations -- the pop song "Human Nature," which was introduced into jazz by Miles Davis in 1985; Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy"; the standard "Darn That Dream"; and Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy." These are followed by four interlocking Iyer compositions, which are in turn succeeded by the album's third movement, a stretch that includes a version of Steve Coleman's (Iyer's former boss and mentor) "Games," another Ellington track ("Fleurette Africaine") and one final original: "One for Blount," a dedication to Sun Ra. The opening version of "Human Nature" dips into Bruce Hornsby territory in its final 90 seconds or so, and tosses in a few unnecessary fills, but otherwise it's nice enough. Iyer tackles "Epistrophy" with high-speed, Jarrett-esque streams of notes rather than the obvious, Monk-ish lurching rhythm and melodic sparseness; the melody is present, but it's buried, you've got to know it's there in advance and listen for it. "Darn That Dream" is pretty but undistinguished, while Iyer's version of "Black and Tan Fantasy" struts and strides convincingly, making the listener wish he'd approached the Monk tune in a similar fashion. The four-song suite of original material that comprises the album's middle stretch showcases other facets of Iyer's playing, including a passable Cecil Taylor impression on the rumbling "Prelude: Heartpiece" and "Autoscopy." The latter piece shifts to Philip Glass-like repetitive figures in its second half. The odds and ends that close the disc out don't resolve anything, though "Games" has a melody Iyer clearly enjoys playing; they just provide structure to the album as a whole. He can clearly make a piano do just about anything he wants it to, and Solo is a project that puts the thought that went into its construction clearly visible, but it's never breathtaking in the way a truly great solo piano performance can be. © Phil Freeman /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 13, 2009 | ACT Music

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
Vijay Iyer has captured the ears of critics and listeners like only a handful of the most elite jazz pianists since McCoy Tyner, Cecil Taylor, or Misha Mengelberg initially burst onto the scene. There's no other single player who sounds even remotely like him, few who can match his inventive and whimsical sense of play or seriousness, and absolutely nobody who presents the stunning, highly intelligent music he dishes out. With Historicity, he touches on many different levels of acumen, influenced by contemporary alternative rock, Motown, show tunes, pop fusion, the early creative music of the '70s, and ethnic strains. Iyer also revisits two of his older compositions, with the majority of this progressive jazz -- whether "covers" or originals -- done completely in his own scintillating style. Iyer's working/touring band of drummer Marcus Gilmore and bassist Stephan Crump is more than up to the task, with this well-rehearsed music retaining a spontaneous, liquid, chameleonic urgency that consistently staggers the imagination. Iyer's mind-blowing virtuosity on the title track/opener is loaded with mutated repeat phrases that tumble from his brilliant, busy hands. Clearly, he is not like all the others. His love for Andrew Hill is demonstrated during "Smoke Stack," a scattershot, inventive, tangential swinger, while Julius Hemphill's deeply bluesy and tribal "Dogon A.D." is perfectly interpreted in its thorny, craggy, unpredictable rhythmic base, as Crump's bowed bass and Gilmore's juggernaut funk stagger the mixed meters, very faithful to the original. M.I.A. fans are treated to "Galang" in a hardbound big beat with summarily contrasting bright or dark piano lines, while Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother" sports a tom-tom-fed New Orleans syncopation contrasting Iyer's strident piano. The suggestive, introspective original "Helix" is different for the pianist in a diffuse setting, and he conversely incorporates a circle-the-wagons approach on the romantic Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim evergreen "Somewhere," juxtaposed against a bluesy swing, again atypical. Perhaps the most unusual choice is R&B fusioneer Ronnie Foster's "Mystic Brew," a straight funky version, not at all smooth, but way cool. The recapitulated tracks include "Trident: 2010" in a roiling, nearly boiled motion, while "Segment for Sentiment #2" is magnificently spiritual, again a twist for Iyer's more animated notions. Crump's bass playing and especially his soloing should be something to marvel at for anyone who appreciates finely crafted, artistic jazz musicianship, while Gilmore is amazing in his ability to keep up and push the more complex sounds. Vijay Iyer has mad skills, overwhelmingly and powerfully demonstrated on all of his recordings, but especially this one. He's also maturing at a rapid rate, while at the height of his powers on this incredible effort that sounds like much more than a mere piano-bass-drums mainstream jazz trio. This is an incredible CD, and a strong candidate for best jazz CD of 2009. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo
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Jazz - Released February 25, 2011 | ACT Music

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer cut five albums in 2010 in various ensemble and solo settings. He was also was nominated for a Grammy for 2009's stellar Historicity. To kick off 2011, Iyer releases the much-anticipated Tirtha project; the debut recording of a new band that came together for the first time in 2007. Tirtha features Iyer on piano, virtuoso Nitin Mitta on tablas, and guitarist-composer Prasanna. Together they engage in a triangular dialogue between modern creative jazz, Hindustani (north-Indian classical) and Carnatic (south-Indian classical) music. What Tirtha's music is not, is mere jazz exotica or "fusion." What takes place along composed and improvised lines is a deep communication from the various places where these musics meet and diverge. The players engage one another through familiar and new harmonic ideas in spirited counterpoint, seamless dissonance, and complex lyric invention, all incorporated in a polyrhythmic language. Iyer and Mitta introduce "Duality" with a mysterious melodic statement before the pianist delves into a dense exploration of chordal harmonics that Prasanna answers minimally at first, then in an ever more detailed, complex fashion. Mitta's tablas are the constant: he bridges the dialogue on the changes in various tones and tempi, turning the entire work into an exercise in modal telepathy. "Tribal Wisdom," the album's longest piece, opens with a voice, tabla, and handclaps introducing what will most certainly become one of the most exciting explorations in polyrhythm, counterpoint, and elegance on the disc. "Abundance" is a more languid affair, with gorgeous changes and Iyer's piano holding court in a complex, midtempo ballad enhanced by Prasanna's silky comping. "Polytheism" employs rhythm as an anchor in a contrapuntal apreggiatic study that never loses its groove; the dialogue between piano and guitar is fluid and expansive. The set closes with the hauntingly beautiful "Entropy and Time," a gorgeous, quietly moving piece that displays Mitta's amazing gift of enhancing an already luxuriant lyricism with his complete mastery of the tonal possibilities of his instrument. Prasanna uses his guitar more like a sitar in creating an assertive melodic statement as Iyer responds to him ethereally in the middle register. Tirtha is a triumph; it is a high-water mark in hearing the constantly evolving discussion between jazz and Indian music. © Thom Jurek /TiVo