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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released March 6, 2007 | Savoy

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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CDkr177.59

Jazz - Released May 23, 2006 | Savoy

While performing in many other ensemble settings and building successful solo careers, Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa are young innovators -- who share both Indian ancestry and a New York jazz sensibility -- who have been touring the world as a duo for over ten years, performing at the North Sea Jazz Festival, the San Francisco Jazz Festival, Seattle's Earshot Jazz Festival and Jazz Festival Ljubljana, among many others. For the first time, they distill their otherworldly, closely entwined musical language into a 13-track recording on Raw Materials -- the first 12 of which are from the suite "Sangha: Collaborative Fables," which was commissioned by the Jazz Gallery with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation Multi-Arts Production Fund. From the opening, haunting piano chords and rich sax lines on "The Shape of Things," it's clear that the two have a blend of melodic passion, free jazz experimentation, and hypnotic ambience clearly in mind. They can turn from a gentle mood to a more frenetic one on a dime, as on the wildly percussive "All the Names," which goes through some interesting bouts of emotional upheaval. Despite the oddities and chamber music flavors throughout, some of their most inviting moments come on pieces like "Forgotten System," when they seem to challenge each other with competing improvisational lines and dynamics. Other tunes like "Five Fingers Make a Fist" and the soulful "Common Ground" keep the artsiness in but have moments of true melodicism. They're a brilliantly talented, visionary but unusual pair whose debut will appeal mostly to jazz and classical fans with open minds. © Jonathan Widran /TiVo
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CDkr177.59

Jazz - Released May 17, 2005 | Savoy

A decade into his recording career, pianist/composer/bandleader Vijay Iyer is still a startlingly original voice in jazz. His dense and often knotty harmonic conceptions and his modal approach to melodic invention are idiosyncratic yet wonderfully accessible to listeners; his rhythmic conceptions are unusual, yet always swing, and his improvisational facility as a soloist places him in a very small league of jazzmen. Reimagining is another exercise in complex compositions where the notion of song is brought to the fore. Accompanied by his longtime front-line alter ego, Rudresh Mahanthappa, on alto saxophone, bassist Stephan Crump, and drummer Marcus Gilmore, Iyer creates song forms from the place that is as far as East as from the West -- the magical and murky, imagined interzone, where the music of the Indo-Asian Diaspore meets the Western Jazz tradition. That is to say, these forms establish the next extension in both traditions. The beautiful loping "Song for Midwood" is a case in point. Where one can hear the influence of Jan Garbarek's assertion that space dictates the placement of melody, here, it is the situating of two minimal phrases in space that offers a new visible dimension for the lyric line to emerge from and return to. The nearly funky backbeat groove on "Immfogee's Cakewalk" offers the listener a foothold into an angular -- not dissonant -- sonic world where counterpoint, repetition, interlaced rhythmic assertions, and scalar invention all meld together into something that truly swings. And so it goes. Whether it's the chordal mode strata that opens onto the body of a tune so elegiac and sweet it is heartbreaking, as on "The Big Almost," or the seamless, nearly formless fragments that assert themselves into unified voices on "Composites," the effect is the same: here is a musician who is discovering as he goes, one who never gives in to notions of excess or mere vanguard speculation, but who moves purposefully into the process of discovery. And jazz is better for it. Reimagining is the sound of the mature Iyer, who is at once authoritative and inquisitive, finding and relating mystery as he uncovers it and, in the process, furthering the jazz tradition. Bravo. © Thom Jurek /TiVo