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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
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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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Jazz - Released January 1, 2001 | Red Giant

Pianist Vijay Iyer leads a quartet on his third outing, featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Stephan Crump on bass, and Derrek Phillips on drums. Iyer's two previous releases were attempts to integrate the avant-garde, South Asian, and M-Base concepts that shaped him as a player and composer. On Panoptic Modes, Iyer continues to do this, but manages to arrive at the next level in terms of artistic focus and vision. With this new quartet music (three tracks are trio pieces), he continues to eschew the rhythmically obvious at all costs. His harmonic and formal concepts are as challenging as ever, yet his exceedingly difficult writing is rendered oddly accessible by the unperturbed facility of his band. Highlights include the brisk, rolling rhythms and animated piano/drum conversation heard on "Configurations"; the highly angular juxtaposition of melody and bassline on "Atlantean Tropes"; the dark, suggestive world of the anti-death penalty ballad "Numbers," which lasts not even two minutes; and the stirring quartet remake of "Trident" (a far slower trio version appeared on Iyer's 1998 record, Architextures). Highly recommended. © David R. Adler /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1998 | Asian Improv Records

Pianist Vijay Iyer splits his sophomore outing between his trio (with bassist Jeff Brock and drummer Brad Hargreaves) and an octet featuring Hargreaves, guitarist Liberty Ellman, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, two tenor saxophonists (Eric Crystal and Aaron Stewart), and two bassists (Brock and Kevin Ellington Mingus). As on his debut, 1995's Memorophilia, Iyer is after a sound that combines modern jazz with elements inspired by the South Asian diaspora of which he is a part. The clearest references to non-Western music appear on "Three Peas," which features Mahanthappa and the two bassists. Otherwise, Iyer's multifarious influences are harder to separate or even detect, as they're deeply interwoven within the dense stew of rhythms and improvisational dialogues undertaken by both ensembles. There's an opaque quality and a relentless intensity in much of Iyer's music. Pianistically, he has something in common with non-traditional players such as Jason Moran and Ethan Iverson (neither of whom were prominent at the time of this recording). As a composer, Iyer draws upon figures such as Andrew Hill, Cecil Taylor, and Steve Coleman, but he is clearly arriving at his own highly complex style. Architextures, by the way, would be Iyer's last album as a Bay Area musician. He moved to New York in the late '90s to begin associations with a whole new family of players, although Rudresh Mahanthappa, Liberty Ellman, and Aaron Stewart also made the move around the same time. © David R. Adler /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1996 | Asian Improv Records

Vijay Iyer's 1995 debut finds the young pianist at the helm of three different ensembles: the Vijay Iyer Trio, Spirit Complex, and Poisonous Prophets. The acoustic trio, with bassist Jeff Brock and drummer Brad Hargreaves, appears on five of the nine tracks, with two of the five featuring alto saxophonist and M-Base pioneer Steve Coleman as a special guest. Spirit Complex, with trombonist George Lewis, tenor saxophonist Francis Wong, cellist Kash Killion, and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee, takes over on two of the tracks, its sound considerably more abstract than the trio's. Poisonous Prophets, with guitarist Liberty Ellman, electric bassist Jeff Bilmes, and again drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee, introduces a searing electric-funk sound on one track only, "Peripatetics." Iyer also goes it alone on an obliquely blues-based piece titled "Algebra." His cerebral compositional approach and advanced playing style unite all the disparate streams that the album has to offer. Iyer, the American son of Indian immigrants, identifies strongly with the Asian Improv Arts movement, which at the time of this recording was under the leadership of Francis Wong. The presence on this album of Wong, Steve Coleman, and George Lewis of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) represents a confluence of radical schools of musical thought that Iyer is at pains to discuss in his comprehensive (and beautifully written) liner notes. With both the music and the essay, one gets a strong sense of Iyer as someone with lofty goals and an exceptional intellect. © David R. Adler /TiVo