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Jazz - Released March 11, 2016 | ECM

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music - Indispensable JAZZ NEWS - 5 Sterne Fono Forum Jazz
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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 April 9, 2021 | ECM

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music
Although it stems from a work that Iyer originally crafted back in 2011, one could hardly imagine a better title for a 2021 album release than Uneasy. As the world wobbles onto its post-pandemic footing and the United States begins to take stock of the social and political toll from years of continued divisiveness, any optimism or forward motion one may feel is almost always tempered by the reality of that which came before. That anger and frustration with the past and the resultant realism about the future is at the core of the pianist's first trio album for ECM since 2015's Break Stuff. Like that outing, Uneasy relies on tight, confident interplay between three highly skilled and unique musicians, but this lineup is all new, featuring double-bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Iyer's skills as a player, composer, and collaborator have since grown considerably and Uneasy is an excellent showcase for all of them. "Children of Flint" and "Combat Breathing" are stunning compositions, focusing on the human costs of political negligence and malfeasance, forces that have unmistakably driven the uneasiness behind the album's title. "Children of Flint" is the more rigorous of the two, opening the album in a dramatically unfolding manner, but "Combat Breathing" definitely holds its own, finding a sturdy groove that's fueled by fire—not funk—and culminating in a cluster of sonics that evaporates into the ether like so much tear gas. The interplay between the three players is remarkable throughout, most notably on the dramatic "Entrustment," which relies on telepathic communication between the rhythm section and Iyer's piano; likewise, "Retrofit"—a piece written for sextet and appropriately complex—gets handled deftly by these three, giving each plenty of opportunity to shine. Of course, it's Iyer's piano work that holds down the entire affair, and as he wends through the dense, melodic "Touba," he manages to evoke Coltrane's spiritual-era changes, but with a more pensive vibe, while on the solo piece "Augury," his playing is both insistent and introspective. On Uneasy, Iyer continues his unique balancing act of presenting complex and demanding compositional ideas in a framework that's welcoming and accessible, with players who see eye-to-eye and can help execute that vision in a way that's imaginative and invigorating. © Jason Ferguson/Qobuz
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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
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Free Jazz & Avant-Garde - Released March 15, 2019 | ECM

Hi-Res Booklet
In the early 2000s, Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn were members of the Note Factory, a specialised nonet led by Roscoe Mitchell. The tandem of pianists is an integral component to the complex improvised music provided by the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s saxophonist. Well aware of their potential, Iyer and Tabron decided to pursue their own venture. Recorded live on March 12th, 2018 at the Budapest Liszt Academy, The Transitory Poems doesn’t simply document their profuse creativity. This concert is also a tribute to four artists who passed away recently. Four personalities connected to the Americans’ career: pianists Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams, Geri Allen, as well as painter and sculptor Jack Whitten. For 75 minutes, Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn go back and forth in complete freedom. Probably unfit for untrained listeners, their avant-garde improvisations display exceptional lightness at all times. The result is dense, but never suffocating or exhausting. A music style of immediacy characterised by unparalleled fluidity. Phrases and exchanges that light up the sky and disappear just a few seconds later, like fireworks. Exhilarating. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released February 28, 2014 | ECM

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 30, 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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Jazz - Released April 22, 2008 | Sunnyside

Vijay Iyer and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa blend their Indian heritage with the influence of their New York jazz experience in this striking session, where they're joined by bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore. The haunting miniature "The Weight of Things" (credited to the entire quartet) leads into the furious protest song "Macaca Please" (the latter title based on a slur uttered by a U.S. senator during the 2006 campaign), a cauldron of many influences. Iyer's dramatic reworking of Bud Powell's obscure "Comin' Up" gives it a more contemporary flavor, though the reggae rhythm gets tiresome after a while. Iyer's solo interpretation of the standard "I'm All Smiles" is more conventional, though with a bittersweet flavor. "Threnody" is not to be confused with Marian McPartland's composition; Iyer's haunting melody has a sense of foreboding disaster. Recommended. © Ken Dryden /TiVo
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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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Film Soundtracks - Released November 7, 2014 | ECM

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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 29, 2012 | ACT Music

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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 July 6, 2017 | Pi Recordings

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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
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Film Soundtracks - Released November 7, 2014 | ECM

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Free Jazz & Avant-Garde - Released March 15, 2019 | ECM

Booklet
In the early 2000s, Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn were members of the Note Factory, a specialised nonet led by Roscoe Mitchell. The tandem of pianists is an integral component to the complex improvised music provided by the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s saxophonist. Well aware of their potential, Iyer and Tabron decided to pursue their own venture. Recorded live on March 12th, 2018 at the Budapest Liszt Academy, The Transitory Poems doesn’t simply document their profuse creativity. This concert is also a tribute to four artists who passed away recently. Four personalities connected to the Americans’ career: pianists Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams, Geri Allen, as well as painter and sculptor Jack Whitten. For 75 minutes, Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn go back and forth in complete freedom. Probably unfit for untrained listeners, their avant-garde improvisations display exceptional lightness at all times. The result is dense, but never suffocating or exhausting. A music style of immediacy characterised by unparalleled fluidity. Phrases and exchanges that light up the sky and disappear just a few seconds later, like fireworks. Exhilarating. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz