Disc of the day: 24-09-09

Vijay Iyer Trio: Historicity (ACT 9489-2)
Why is it that whenever I listen to a Vijay Iyer disc, the future looks brighter? More  complex than ever, sure, but filled with new possibilities, new  conundrums, fresh ways of looking at what I had thought were familiar things – or rather fresh ways of hearing…

The Indo-American pianist has performed in many different instrumental combinations before, but this time the format is the conventional acoustic piano trio (though, naturally, that word “conventional” is going to be confounded here).

Track one, the title piece, finds Iyer, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore leaping, landing and somersaulting like free runners up the walls and across the roofs of a complex musical landscape – it’s all about getting the correct angle, the right acceleration and degree of twist.

But nothing quite prepared me for the Iyer Trio doing Bernstein’s Somewhere. Crump sets up a descending bass line ostinato, Gilmore adds a beautifully judged cymbal swing and rim-shot pulse in a different time signature, and Iyer quickly moves the melodic line into a solo that is at once weird in its mathematics and rhythms and harmonic logic. The whole thing is perfectly placed just beyond my intellectual grasp but with enough emotional lure to keep me stretching for understanding. It makes a steady climb to a blissful intensity just short of six minutes before falling back to a majestic conclusion that contains just a hint of the Broadway high drama of its origins.

It is swiftly followed by a vivid re-imagining of M.I.A.’s hit, Galang. Gilmore does an impressive drum machine impression, while Crump creates synth-like booms with his acoustic bass.

Other composers who get revisioned are Andrew Hill, Julius Hemphill, Ronnie Foster and Stevie Wonder. Iyer can trace his music’s source material impeccably and its a reflexive process: we find out what Hill brings to Iyer, for example, but, equally, what Iyer brings to Hill. How deeply funky, yet distinctly unnerving, is Wonder’s Big Brother? And how driving is Foster’s Mystic Brew?

The band works as one, and his own pieces, Helix especially, are extraordinarily tight and focussed.

Thoroughly apt cover pic is of an Anish Kapoor sculpture called Model For Memory.

Categories: CD review

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