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Jazz - Released January 1, 2003 | Pi Recordings

Calling Blood Sutra another Vijay Iyer disc could be damning with faint praise or maybe noting a first few signs of stagnation, but it just reflects the singular nature of the young pianist-composer's musical conception in this case. Like Jason Moran, it's hard to find signposts or reference points in his music beyond the sorta/kinda/a-little-bit-like level and nothing on his fourth disc will dissuade those who rank him on the very short list of creative, individual young stylists in jazz. The meditative, mostly solo piano "Proximity (Crossroads)" blends into "Brute Facts," where new drummer Tyshawn Sorey introduces the most noticeable sonic shift in active, chop-funk rhythms somewhere near Steve Coleman's M-Base foundation. Iyer's alto sax alter ego Rudresh Mahanthappa takes a dynamics-down solo hand-off for his tart-toned feature after Iyer's extended solo before the music slips into "Habeas Corpus" without drawing more attention than a subtle change to a stabbing, more classically defined melody. That flow is characteristic of Blood Sutra. The music is excerpted from a more extensive suite, and there is next to no sense of breaks between pieces as the music moves seamlessly from mood to mood. Iyer returns to the solo piano snippet bridge technique with the ruminative "Ascent" and abstract "That Much Music," dedicated to Roscoe Mitchell, which visits Cecil Taylor territory of atonal clusters and star twinkle arpeggios. The spare "When History Sleeps" begins portentous before Mahanthappa cools it out as Stephan Crump's bass coming to the fore and a muted Sorey focuses on mallets and cymbals. One finger dissonances recalling Thelonious Monk creep in on "Questions of Agency," which gets more thorny and knotty behind Mahanthappa's solo in a way that suggests Ornette Coleman. "Kinship" really brings out a Monk connection as the group shifts to a more classic jazz quartet sound, while "Imagined Nations" opens with Crump's strummed bass and tilts more towards M-Base vein. "Because of Guns (Hey Joe Redux)" looks like a nod to Bad Plus (it probably has more to do with Iyer's Burnt Sugar connection) and often hits a pretty deep blues mojo with the riff locked down and piano and alto playing intriguing unison variations on the melody line. But ultimately it's sporadic or hang together that well -- Mahanthappa doesn't sound as comfortable in this context and Sorey never meshes with a straight rock backbeat. Even with that slight tailing-off, Blood Sutra only adds more luster to Iyer's presence on the short list of forward-looking jazz creators these days. His muse still tends towards the severe but there's no denying the individuality and the fact he doesn't make the listening easy is also precisely what makes it so rewarding. © Don Snowden /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 2009 | Savoy Jazz

Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd join forces once again for Still Life with Commentator, something of a follow-up to In What Language? Both these projects are decidedly different than Iyer's albums as sole leader, in that Ladd's poetry is up front and the music plays a somewhat smaller role in terms of the focus. Still Life with Commentator is a series of poetic ruminations on information inundation in today's society. The music is often dark and claustrophobic, with beats that mimic teletype machines or clattering keyboards -- a musical analogue for the constant streams of information bombarding us on a daily basis. Ladd's lyrics are dense and layered, and coupled with the music create a slight (and sometimes not so slight) sense of malaise. Iyer's wonderful piano playing only surfaces in short bursts, like the ending of "Cleaning Up the Mess" and "Holocaust Blog." "Mount Rather (Commentator Landscape #3: Dan Rather)" also has a really nice coda featuring some tasty guitar work by Liberty Ellman. Things loosen up a bit toward the middle and end, with both the hilarious "Fox 'n' Friends" and the playful "Cybernut Bucolia" offering a bit of respite from the more serious proceedings. There are also two instrumentals toward the end: a solo piano piece ("Redemption Chant") and the somber full-band number "Blog Mom's Anthem." If you're looking to hear Iyer's jazz inclinations, look elsewhere. Still Life with Commentator is a dense, thought-provoking piece that takes some effort to internalize. It's of a piece conceptually, if not in execution, with Rob Swift's War Games. Neither of these albums preaches and neither takes sides; they examine and expose ways in which our society is changing that no one can prevent or predict. Ultimately, it is only through scrutiny that understanding is gained. Still Life with Commentator isn't an easy listen, but it wasn't meant to be. © Sean Westergaard /TiVo
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CDkr125.39

Jazz - Released July 5, 2017 | Pi Recordings

Inspired by the experience of an Iranian filmmaker wrongly detained by INS officials at JFK airport in New York, this epic work explores life through the microcosm of the airport -- a place of arrival and departure, of being an alien or leaving one's citizenship behind. Poet/hip-hop man Mike Ladd has done a superb job with the lyrics, polished by real little monologues that examine all aspects of the problem -- and it's a problem that often leaves travelers dehumanized. Keyboard player Vijay Iyer gives tone and color to all this in his compositions, and the two together become more than a sum of their parts. It's not an easy album to listen to -- often harrowing, as in "Innana After Baghdad" or "Terminal City" -- but more than repays the investment of ears and time. Is it jazz? Not really. It falls outside category -- as it should, given the subject matter involved. At first it can sound simplistic, but it soon becomes apparent that the textures and depths of the music only reveal themselves gradually, such as with "Asylum." Written originally to be performed on-stage in a theatrical setting, it transfers well to a purely recorded medium, dense and demanding, but ultimately satisfying, inasmuch as it leaves the listener full of questions and less certain about the world. © Chris Nickson /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 25, 2019 | ECM

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Jazz - Released January 29, 2012 | ACT Music