NPR MUSIC :: Self-Taught Jazz Pianist Goes ‘Solo’
“The piano was around because my sister was taking lessons, and so I just started messing on it and figuring things out little by little,” Iyer tells Terry Gross. “I can’t really pinpoint the beginning of it.” Full Article
The Prague Post :: Embracing the spectrum
From The Village Voice to The San Francisco Chronicle, Iyer’s music continues to garner positive reviews across the United States and beyond. Downbeat Magazine’s respected international critic’s poll recently selected Vijay Iyer Trio’s CD Historicity as album of 2010. More praise came last July when GQ India chose Iyer, with conductor Zubin Metha, journalist Fareed Zakaria and novelist Salman Rushdie as one of the 50 most influential Indians. Full Article
PITCHFORK :: SOLO
Vijay Iyer is, simply put, one of the most interesting and vital young pianists in jazz today. His 15-year recording career has found him equally at home as a leader and collaborator. He’s a member of Fieldwork, has worked with hip-hop producer Mike Ladd and innovative saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, he’s been involved with members of the M-Base improvisation collective and written orchestral works– he’s even on the new Das Racist mixtape (he co-produced the hidden track, “Free Jazzmataz”). Last year, he made some waves outside of jazz with his trio’s thunderous cover of M.I.A.’s “Galang”, and this year he received the Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Award as Musician of the Year, which is a pretty big deal (he’s keeping company with Ornette Coleman and Herbie Hancock there). Full Article
DUSTED :: Autoscopy
After more than a dozen albums as headman or co-leader since 1995, Vijay Iyer has finally released a solo album. In many ways, Solo follows a clear lineage through the more intimate and lyrical sounds that Iyer has been cultivating during the past few years. And yet, there is a drastic shift in mood and focus. The title of one of his centerpiece compositions may hint at this: “Autoscopy” refers to the out-of-body feeling that Iyer claims to experience when he plays music. “You observe your actions from outside of (usually above) your body,” he writes. As an album, Solo is so intensely introspective, it becomes less about the subjective self and more about a simultaneous inside and outside view of Iyer as a musical vessel. Full Article
JAMBANDS :: VIJAY IYER
Following up on the critical acclaim of his 2009 trio album Historicity, New York City-based piano guru Vijay Iyer steps out on his own with his debut solo endeavor appropriately titled, well, Solo. Produced by the artist in tandem with Grammy Award-winning sound engineer Cookie Marenco (Max Roach, Brad Mehldau, Buckethead, Charlie Haden), Iyer stitches together a seamless quilt of the varied playing styles that have shaped his skills as a performer—running the gamut of sounds that ranges from the quaint to the cacophonous. This 11-track collection kicks off with a gorgeous, straightforward reflection on Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” which Iyer had started performing in concert following the King of Pop’s tragic death last summer, making the ballad’s unforgettable melody his own with an intimacy that reveals his lifelong connection to the Thriller smash. Full Article
DOWNBEAT :: Vijay Iyer Solo
Much of the acclaimed Vijay Iyer has earned in the past few years has been tied to the rhythmic concept of his remarkable bands. His drummers are paramount participants, charging the action and goading the pianist to deeper levels of engagement. Full Article
phrequency :: Vijay Iyer Interview
This Saturday evening in conjunction with the Philadelphia Fringe Fesitval, the Eastern State Penitentiary will host a very special performance from prolific jazz star Vijay Iyer. Only 37 years old, Iyer has more than 12 albums under his belt and some interesting production credits. Last year’s Historicity was named the #1 Jazz Album of the Year by the New York Times. His solo effort, appropriately named Solo was released August 31st.
Iyer will be playing his new album Solo in its entirety as well as an expanded version of the score to “Release”, a collaboration between himself and filmmaker Bill Morrison, who created a 12-minute film with archival footage of Al Capone’s release from the Penitentiary in 1930. The film will run on a loop in Capone’s cell. Full Article
New Jersey Online :: Rising star Vijay Iyer returns, unaccompanied
Jazz hasn’t had a presence on the pop charts in decades, but the music still has its fair share of artists with a buzz. Typically a hot young lion, a journeyman who breaks through mid-career or an old master who gets some well-deserved attention near the end, these musicians captivate the jazz-listening public’s imagination, taking their careers to new levels in the process. Full Article
Among the young lions of jazz piano, Indian- American artist Vijay Iyer is a standout. He is perpetually on “best of” lists, most recently as the recipient of the Jazz Journalists Association 2010 award for Musician of the Year (an honor previously given to Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman and Wayne Shorter). His 2009 recording, “Historicity,” was chosen as the No. 1 jazz album by myriad critics in the U.S. and in Europe. And his newest effort, “Solo,” released last week, is already garnering raves. He’ll be celebrating with a performance at (Le) Poisson Rouge, New York’s Greenwich Village music club, on Sept. 10. Full Article
NPR MUSIC :: Vijay Iyer On Piano Jazz
Vijay Iyer’s story is not uncommon in modern jazz. He’s mostly self-taught (although he did study the Suzuki method for violin) and played in rock bands as a kid before turning to the piano and jazz. But as a highly trained scientist who holds degrees in mathematics and physics, including an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts from the University of California at Berkeley, Iyer is unique in drawing on the modern technological world as a major compositional influence on his trio. What is old becomes new again in Iyer, as he embodies a Renaissance approach to blending science and art. Full Article
DOWNBEAT :: Editors’ Picks: September
For me, there’s something special about solo piano records. When they are done right, you can really hear the inner beauty of the music and the musician — their concept of rhythm and melody, breath, art and life. On Solo, we find the gifted pianist Vijay Iyer taking his turn in this solitary proving ground, and the results are stunning. Iyer has been gaining the attention of audiences and the critical community alike. Full Article
Music & More :: Solo
Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer has been on a very successful roll lately with well received albums and collaborations. He has also been re-examining his music, and paring away anything that is superfluous or unnecessary to his music. That aesthetic really shows on this album, featuring him in a solo context and honing his own music and the music he interprets into a well defined crystalline clarity. He opens with a surprising cover of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” but there is nothing coy or ironic about this choice. Full Article
The Boston Globe :: Solo
When a pianist of Vijay Iyer’s caliber waits this long to put out a solo album — he turns 40 next year and has 10 previous discs to his name — it must be that he’s been waiting until he’s ready. In that regard, last year’s “Historicity” — his first trio album — can almost be viewed as a prelude to “Solo.” Full Article
AOL Spinner :: Vijay Iyer Has Nowhere to Hide on ‘Solo’
It seems that pianist Vijay Iyer has been getting accolades from everywhere since the release of 2009’s ‘Historicity.’ The trio album won awards in Downbeat and the Village Voice’s year-end polls, and not to be outdone, the Jazz Journalist Association recently picked him as Musician of the Year. GQ India even listed him as one of the 50 Most Influential International Indians. Full Aricle
cmj :: solo
After winning raves for last year’s collaborative album Historicity and collaborating with everyone from Steve Coleman to DJ Spooky, pianist/composer Vijay Iyer goes, well, you saw the album title. Full Article
Audiophile Audition :: Solo Act
After listening to pianist Vijay Iyer’s first solo album, simply titled Solo, the initial inquiry is: what took so long? Iyer’s multifaceted career has been fruitful: he worked with Steve Coleman and the M-Base collective in the mid 1990s, collaborated with Roscoe Mitchell and Wadada Leo Smith, has been involved in classical commissions, rock projects and traditional Indian music and earlier this year was named Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. In addition, Iyer has already done solo tours, so this unaccompanied studio excursion was the logical next step. Full Article
something else reviews :: Vijay Iyer Solo 2010
When a great, small combo jazz pianist makes a solo record, it usually doesn’t signal that pianist’s arrival, it means he’s solidifying his legacy. We witnessed this with Art Tatum’s Solo Masterpieces recordings made at the end of his life. The same goes with Bill Evans’ Alone recorded several years after his Village Vanguard apex. Chick Corea’s first solo piano recordings were made before Return To Forever but after his signature Now He Sings, Now He Sobs album, the short lived but highly acclaimed Circle band he co-led and of course his stint in Miles Davis’ band during a very creative time. Full Article
LA Times :: Vijay Iyer’s jazz pulls from grab bag of genres and years
Critical acclaim can be a tricky thing. While no musician would reject it, when an album becomes an 800-pound gorilla on year-end best-of lists like Vijay Iyer’s knotty yet inviting 2009 album, “Historicity,” it’s tempting to wonder if there’s any downside. Does that kind of reaction go to a guy’s head? Does it inspire a musician to venture further out and defy expectations? Or does it prompt a temptation to stick with what’s worked in the past? Full Article
UTNE Reader :: Vijay Iyer
“A much-lauded jazz pianist, Iyer plays nimbly in many ensembles and settings—but he really shines on Solo, his first unaccompanied recording… Bursting with both emotion and intelligence, this album is a dispatch from the vibrant forefront of jazz.” – Utne Reader Full Article
All About Jazz :: Solo
“even more compelling than its predecessor… Iyer dives deep to find new twists and turns and harmonic surprises; all of them, however radical, sounding ineffably right, all of them glistening with a sense of revealed mystery… magic, from start to finish.” Full Article
Jazz Times :: Heineken Jazzaldia Festival De Jazz
“He plays jazz piano in a foreign language in which he alone is fluent. It is redundant to speak of his technical brilliance because it is inseparable from his accretive creative process, in which external elements are introduced and multiplied and layered into vast designs. Iyer’s magic is that, once he has taught you how to listen to his music, you hear the angles and planes cohere and begin to strangely flow. You hear new pure forms of esoteric lyricism infused even into songs that Michael Jackson and Barbra Streisand sang, like ‘Human Nature’ and ‘I’m All Smiles’… I felt fortunate to have been present for Vijay Iyer’s private recital. Full Article
NOTE :: scroll down to last few paragraphs
Jazz Times :: Montreal International Jazz Festival
Those in the know, know Vijay Iyer. With a recent slew of accolades surrounding his new release Historicity (including top ten nods in The New York Times, The LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, and NPR among others), he has started to amass a considerable following of both jazz aficionados and casual listeners alike. Full Article
DOWNBEAT:: 2010 ALBUM OF THE YEAR & RISING STAR JAZZ GROUP OF THE YEAR
In Downbeat Magazine’s Annual International Critics’ Poll, Historicity was voted 2010 ALBUM OF THE YEAR, and the Vijay Iyer Trio was named rising star jazz group of the year.
Huffington Post :: Striving is the Backstory
Vijay Iyer brings rare stuff to jazz piano, starting with a Brahmin Indian name and heritage, and a Yale degree in physics. Gujarati stick dances and Bhajan devotional songs from Northern India are in his blood, well mixed by now with the pop sounds of a boyhood in Rochester, New York: Prince and James Brown, then Miles and Monk. Full Article
HOUR :: Insurgent artistry
Pianist Vijay Iyer’s trio album with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, Historicity, was at the top of virtually every jazz critic’s top 10 list for 2009. It’s a spiky, combative album from an Indo-American musician who is perhaps not as widely known as he should be, including covers of artists such as Julius Hemphill, Andrew Hill, Stevie Wonder and M.I.A., artists who he says have a kind of “insurgent quality” that spoke to him in a meaningful way. Full Article
NPR MUSIC :: Vijay Iyer’s Upcoming Solo Album
We’re happy to pass along news that pianist Vijay Iyer will be releasing his first solo recording later this summer. Solo comes out Aug. 31, 2010 on ACT Music.
Like on his trio record Historicity, a consensus pick among many jazz critics for 2009’s best album, Iyer takes on both covers and his own compositions. Out of 11 songs, five are originals; here’s also music here from Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Steve Coleman. “Darn That Dream” made the cut, and a song associated with Michael Jackson starts the record. Listen to Track
The Caravan :: His personal world of sound
VIJAY IYER LIKES TO THROW listeners a little off balance. The ingredients on Iyer’s latest album, Historicity (2009), are basic—a piano, bass and drums—but the music refuses to settle into familiar grooves. Melodies from famous songs are entirely transformed; bursts of percussive sound come from unexpected parts of the piano; the bassist creates eerie slow slides on the strings; and the beats never quite fall where you think they will. Full Article
deutsche well :: New York trio picks up Germany’s first Echo Award for jazz
The German Echo Awards, like the Grammys, are among the world’s most prestigious music prizes. On May 5, the first-ever Echo for jazz is awarded to the Vijay Iyer Trio from New York.Full Article
Vijay Iyer: Hybrid Sensibility
To the surprise of most of us who are highly suspicious of such labels, Vijay Iyer’s years of being anointed “the next big thing” in jazz have actually led to him becoming a “big thing.” His latest album Historicity topped many year-end best-of lists, and his various projects are garnering increasing amounts of attention. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Iyer is a gifted communicator whose writings on his own music as well as the music of luminaries such as Andrew Hill and Thelonious Monk have appeared in many publications. Full Article
Blog Talk Radio
SAJA & SAMMA present a conversation with Indian-American jazz musician Vijay Iyer. His Vijay Iyer Trio’s “Historicity” album was the most honored jazz album of the year.
Listen to blogTalkRadio inteview with Vijay Iyer
Open The Magazine :: The Wizard of Jazz
When Indian American jazz musician Vijay Iyer was growing up in California, he was often dazzled by the percussion of Indian musicians who came to perform there. The rhythm seemed to him “flurries of activity that were ordered and yet so mysterious”. Iyer involuntarily gravitated towards this mystery and, over the years, taught himself to play the piano, seeking to fathom the depths of that elusive sound. Then, in 1991, he heard jazz composer Julius Hemphill play in New Haven, Connecticut. That, says Iyer, changed the way he felt about music and life. Full Article
Chicago Reader :: The Blog
Pianist Vijay Iyer has been turning out ambitious, daring records and giving bracing live performances for years now, but on Historicity everything came together. Though it includes a handful of his brooding, tangled originals, most of the record consists of reshaped covers, both from jazz heavies like Andrew Hill and Julius Hemphill and from pop stars like M.I.A. and Stevie Wonder. Full Article
Philly.com :: New Recordings
This CD by pianist Vijay Iyer made many top 10 lists for 2009, and it’s easy to understand why.
Born of Indian parents who immigrated here in the 1960s, Iyer was a physics Ph.D. student at U.C. Berkeley for a time before discovering that he had surprising things to say in jazz. Full Article
“No record defined the jazz landscape in 2009 quite like Historicity,” the Los Angeles Times wrote recently as the newspaper selected it as the year’s best jazz album.
The album is the latest from the Vijay Iyer Trio led by 38-year-old New York-based Indian-American pianist Vijay Iyer. Full Article
1) Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity (ACT): One of the most exciting pianists of the last decade (and with one of his well-honed outfits) is an energized avant populist, deconstructing West Side Story’s “Somewhere,” paying homage to Andrew Hill, slamming through MIA’s “Galang,” and translating Julius Hemphill’s “Dogon AD.” Full Article
20. Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity (ACT): An energized avant-populist, deconstructing West Side Story’s “Somewhere,” paying homage to Andrew Hill, slamming through MIA’s “Galang,” and translating Julius Hemphill’s “Dogon AD.” Full List
The last ballot has been cut-and-pasted, and I couldn’t be happier with the results of the fourth annual Village Voice Jazz Critics’ Poll. Oh, sure I could—but with a record 99 critics voting, what would Nate Silver have said the odds were of my top four actually finishing No. 1 through 4 for Album of the Year?
When Vijay Iyer enrolled in a PhD program in physics at the University of California, Berkeley, he had no idea that he was about to sign on for a career as a jazz musician instead.
Having taught himself piano and played in a jazz orchestra by the time he was in college, Iyer moved to the Bay Area wanting to get involved with jazz as an extracurricular activity. But with a push in the right direction from some helpful mentors, Iyer gave up the PhD in 1995 set out to start a recording career. His latest album, “Historicity,” was recently released.
This decade’s singular moment in culture could just as easily have been a YouTube video as it might have been a book, a film, an album or an opera. Such judgment calls are a matter of perspective, for one thing, and certainly it’s too soon to tell what ultimately will rate as the artistic triumph of the ’00s.
Jazz Album of the Year
1. Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity (ACT)
New York-based pianist and composer Vijay Iyer is a rhythmic explorer whose piano trio album Historicity (ACT, 2009) is a cohesive and vibrant record that carries its creator and his colleagues firmly into the mainstream of modern music.
Like the rest of the recording industry, jazz clearly has its issues going into 2010. But rumors of its death remain greatly exaggerated. In the last 12 months, a variety of performers released remarkable, forward-looking music that in some cases showed little regard for barriers between genre or culture. A sampling of the year’s best, ranked from 1 to 10. Full Article
The most buzzed-about pianist in jazz has finally released his first trio session (after several albums in other configurations), and it sparkles with ingenuity. What fun he has with M.I.A.’s “Galang.” Full Article
1 Vijay Iyer Trio: “Historicity” (ACT Music). Pianist Iyer has been bringing new ideas to jazz for years, and not only by invoking musical elements of his Indian heritage. In “Historicity,” Iyer produces work that’s daring in its approach to harmony and rhythm yet surprisingly accessible to mainstream audiences. Moreover, practically everything he plays unfolds on an epic scale, the pianist apparently incapable of producing inconsequential gestures. Joined by bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, Iyer presides over music-making that defies conventional approaches to the piano in both solo and ensemble settings. Full Article
Everything in the culture these days is political, right? Partisanism is the new black.
Jazz, at its heart, resists polarization. The premise of the blues, after all, is the creation of joy from adversity, and surely no music has ever reconciled as many contradictions as jazz. Full Article
The most fascinating jazz-related newspaper article that I’ve read in quite some time is this one from the Guardian last week, by the U.S. pianist Vijay Iyer. In it, Iyer explains the influence of mathematics and much more on his music.
It follows then that the most fascinating jazz CD that I’ve heard in quite some time is also from Iyer. It’s his new trio disc, Historicity, about which the jazz interweb’s been buzzing for some weeks now. (I set hands on my review copy only last weekend.) Full Article
Vijay Iyer Trio’s Historicity took an interesting approach to the jazz standard of reproducing the American Song Book or contemporary pop songs. “Each cover,” Iyer writes in the CD’s liner notes, “becomes a conversation between the original work and something else entirely; the best word for it is ‘versioning.'” Full Article
14. Vijay Iyer Trio – Historicity (ACT) See Full List
The combination of incantatory aggression and mordant insistence that made up jazz’s cutting edge in the 1960s persists most conspicuously in the work of such young tyros as this pianist, whose trio (bassist Stephen Crump, drummer Marcus Gilmore) is a storm-making machine of fearsome beauty. With the Bernstein-Sondheim classic, “Somewhere” from “West Side Story”, Iyer and company ramp up the inquisitive resentment simmering beneath its plaintive yearning while the ironies embedded in Stevie Wonder’s “Big Brother” resound harder and deeper even without the benefit of a lyric sheet. Full Article
How can such a well-worn format (piano, bass and drums) sound like a sudden shakedown? For starters, Vijay Iyer’s trio includes a promising young innovator dispersing prismatic rhythms, a bassist who thrives on intensity and a leader who cuts into songs with an incisor before removing their flesh. Full Article
Rares sont les disques de jazz à avoir, ces dernières années, provoqué une effervescence comparable à celle qui a entouré la sortie d’Historicity, premier disque du trio du pianiste américain d’origine indienne Vijay Iyer, du bassiste Stephan Crump et du jeune batteur Marcus Gilmore. Full Article
Eh bien, c’est fait ! Voilà Vijay Iyer installé au firmament du jazz. Les monstres sacrés de la critique l’adoubent, tel Ben Ratliff, du New York Times, qui nous presse d’accueillir le nouveau grand trio du jazz. Plusieurs de ses douze albums en leader ou co-leader figurent dans la sélection annuelle des principaux magazines américains. S’affichant en solo sur la couverture de la revue anglaise Jazzwise, de Jazzthetik, Jazz Podium, Concerto, et en trio avec Matthew Shipp et Jason Moran sur celle du magazine culte Downbeat, qui l’a par deux fois élu « Etoile montante de l’année », comme compositeur et comme artiste de jazz, il accumule les honneurs avec une régularité confondante. Full Article
All About Jazz members are invited to enter the ACT Music “Vijay Iyer – Historicity” giveaway contest starting today. We’ll select FIVE winners at the conclusion of the contest on December 23rd.
Click here to enter the contest
1. David S. Ware, Shakti (Aum Fidelity)
2. Miguel Zenón, Esta Plena (Marsalis Music)
3. Gerald Clayton, Two-Shade (ArtistShare)
4. Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity (ACT)
Looking back on 2009, much of the focus naturally falls on younger musicians. Maybe they’re just fresh in our minds because A Blog Supreme spent so much time addressing ways to get twentysomethings into modern jazz via the Jazz Now series. But folks like Vijay Iyer seemed ubiquitous, and with good reason: He made a standards record that didn’t try to claim new jazz standards. Full Article
On his most recent recording, Historicity, pianist Vijay Iyer takes a look back in a very refreshing manner. On a program highlighted by covers from a range of genres including standards, pop music and the jazz avant garde, Iyer looks at the past as a means of informing how we got to where we are today and our place in the continuum of that history. The result is an engaging portrait combining seemingly incongruent sources into a singularly original presentation. Full Article
eyeweekly :: holiday cd review
Vijay Iyer is one of the few jazzers who not only breathes new life into the genre, but who cranks the defibrillators to 11 and gets jazz’s pulse racing like it was 50 years younger. The New York–based doctoral physicist/pianist is probably one of the most harmonically inventive and virtuosic musicians around. He’s also exquisitely tasteful and entirely listenable, to which his newest trio effort, Historicity, is another stunning testament. Full Article
Pianist Vijay Iyer relates Historicity to “the simple fact of being placed in the stream of history,” here, on this 2009 trio date. Holding advanced degrees in physics and technology, the artist imparts an acute ideological perspective to serve as the underscore for these bustling and largely, energetic performances. A major talent within global jazz settings, Iyer’s divergent stylizations and superior technique spirals his stature to the upper echelon of jazz heroes, all embedded with his nouveau vision and spirited gait. Full Article
Playing music sharpens the brain. It’s proven. I’m a musician, but I’ve also spent a number of years studying mathematics and physics. That is unlikely to have made me a better musician or composer, but playing music from an early age has, quite possibly, made me better at maths. Today, I like to let both disciplines talk to each other, and use mathematical ideas in my composing. They help me find sounds and rhythms that I might never have made otherwise. I want to make music that hits me viscerally, but in surprising, unobvious ways. Full Article
A lot of ideas that have been floating around jazz for the past decade find a compelling distillation here. Rhythmically the music deals in odd meters and dense textures anchored in souped-up funk, hip-hop and idioms from Africa, India and Latin America. Individual voices pursue aggressively independent paths. Prickly improvisations eschew standard forms without abandoning discipline or historical references. Full Article
Pianist Vijay Iyer has reached the point where aficionados spar over favorite works: the raw, scorching duets with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa? The abstract, avant-garde Fieldwork project with Steve Lehman and Tyshawn Sorey? The large-group, multimedia pieces with spoken poet Mike Ladd? As the buzz about him grows, Iyer now offers a classic piano trio album – his first – and it’s a perfect point of introduction to one of the most challenging and satisfying talents in jazz today. Full Article
The classic Bill Evans Trio, with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, is sometimes cited as the best jazz piano trio ever. It’s not a point I’d argue– they were otherworldly. On Portrait in Jazz it doesn’t even sound like three musicians playing. The record meets your ear like a feeling meets your brain– you can’t grasp it but you know it’s there. Few pieces of music made by more than one person suggest quiet and solitude as powerfully. Full Article
While his peers try to propel the jazz tradition into contemporary hip-hop and R&B, pianist Vijay Iyer has burdened himself with an even riskier cross-pollination. His version of jazz bleeds into just about every pop genre that exists, but still takes itself seriously as jazz. Iyer’s new album Historicity careens in every direction, with a riveting cover of the M.I.A. hit “Galang” (with the piano playing all her synthetic bleeps and blips), the oft-sampled Ronnie Foster fusion track “Mystic Brew,” and even a zigzag-y version of Leonard Bernstein’s ballad “Somewhere.” Full Article
November 18, 2009I’m no critic, so I’m in no position to declare anything an “Album of the Year.” I would simply direct your attention to Vijay Iyer’s Historicity, and let you deduce what jazz can still achieve. Full Article
Vijay Iyer’s trio lights up through improvised, viruslike rhythms. It’s not a situation in which the drummer’s steady swing underpins whatever the pianist is doing; that did happen sometimes at the Jazz Standard on Friday, but it wasn’t where the action was. Full Article
In the last few years, some enterprising younger players have reinvented the piano-bass-drums jazz combo. It’s not just that these trios play contemporary pop; it’s also a shift in attitude. Vijay Iyer’s trio doesn’t worry about swinging all the time, although the buoyancy of swing inflects its rhythms as much as hip-hop does. Some great pianists treat the instrument as a whispering sylvan harp. But Iyer treats piano — or the piano trio — like a boom box: a rhythm machine. In Stevie Wonder’s “Big Brother,” Iyer reminds us that jazz versions of radio pop are nothing new, sneaking in a quote from Ramsey Lewis’ ’60s hit “The In Crowd.” Full Article
Vijay Iyer is more than a sublimely gifted pianist. He reconfigures sound, fusing physicality and mystic resonance.
Whether trading abstractions with the brilliant and brooding saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bopping free to the ‘prosody’ of Mike Ladd or dallying with the sci-fi beats of Anti-pop Consortium’s High Priest, Iyer has one trajectory – out.
Chaser recently caught up with the man, on the eve of his appearance at the London Jazz Festival to speak about roots, politics and his latest album ‘Historicity’, a stirring collection of covers “recast in his own language”. Full Article
Historicity is an exciting and unique record. The album takes jazz music forward and is destined to be one of the classic piano trio albums, and is firmly within the stream of jazz but innovative and freewheeling as all the best jazz is. Full Article
I reached Vijay Iyer at the airport, heading for Zagreb, with plans for the flight.
“I’m reading Robin Kelley’s book on Monk,” Iyer says.
That would be Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D. G. Kelley.
“It’s so inspiring,” Iyer says. “I’ve been thinking about Monk constantly. [The book] digs in deep from page one. The opening two pages, he drops this kind of bomb that’s incredible. You start with that.” Full Article
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. Full Article
Searching for new sounds by way of crushing dissonances and dexterous rhythmic underpinnings, pianist Vijay Iyer has become a progressive jazz luminary. On his trio album Historicity, Iyer’s music maintains its otherworldliness, but is familiar and relatable in a way it hasn’t been previously. Full Article
Never let it be said that pianist Vijay Iyer is one to shy away from a challenge. And, frankly, when you’ve got the chops he has, why would you? Not content to simply be regarded as one of the most promising up-and-coming jazz pianists of his generation, Iyer’s latest recording’s mix of audacious covers and originals should mark his group as one of the top piano trios in the game. Full Article
Why has pianist Vijay Iyer become one of the most discussed young musicians in jazz?
Listen to his trio on his latest release, “Historicity” (ACT Music), or check out his appearance this weekend at Symphony Center, and you’ll start to understand why. Full Article
Pianist Vijay Iyer is happy to stun you, to knock you into awe, to blow your mind. He brings technique, imagination, and wide perspective to his art. Historicity, the first recording wholly devoted to Iyer’s trio with bassist Stephen Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, is a jewel. Full Article
Historicity – Vijay Iyer Trio – (ACT) – In a year that has been filled with excellent recordings, few have received more press than pianist Vijay Iyer’s first piano trio CD. Deservedly so – this is an impressive program, filled with sparkling interplay, visceral intensity, and songs that make one think about the creative musician’s role in the arts and society. Full Article
Keyboard magazine :: Vijay Iyer CD Review
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… Full Article
Concerto :: Vijay Iyer October – November 09
Pianist Vijay Iyer navigates the stream of history on his new trio recording, Historicity (ACT, 2009). Joined by bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, Iyer unravels and rebuilds compositions of his own, and those of a cast as diverse as Stevie Wonder, Andrew Hill, Leonard Bernstein and M.I.A. In this interview, Iyer tackles everything from mirror neurons to math jazz, Fibonacci numbers to the legacy of Roy Haynes. Full Article
We’ll hear the end of the set—and the expected, beloved, thunderously applauded performance of “Take Five”—over the speakers inside the Coffee House, where we’ve gone to hear the Vijay Iyer Trio. Remember, Monterey is about choices, often hard choices. I’ve seen Brubeck often, Iyer only once, and I’ve been reading so much about Iyer’s trio and their new CD Historicity that I’m dying of curiosity. Full Articles
Indian-American Vijay Iyer was a Yale student before M-Base sax pioneer Steve Coleman hired him as a self-taught piano sideman, and a fascination with the spiritual/ emotional implications of those rigorously rational disciplines and the patterns they identify drives his work. Full Article
VIJAY IYER’S piano trio sneaked up on listeners when they weren’t really paying much attention to it. It was there in some of the best parts of Mr. Iyer’s impressive recent quartet album, “Tragicomic” (Sunnyside), that don’t include the group’s saxophonist, Rudresh Mahanthappa; it surfaced in occasional gigs or commissions over the past four years for the band’s three other musicians, the pianist Mr. Iyer, the bassist Stephan Crump and the drummer Marcus Gilmore. But “Historicity,” to be released on Oct. 13 by the German label ACT, is piano-bass-drums from beginning to end, and so it’s probably the moment to say: Presto! Here is the great new jazz piano trio. Full Article
Zwei Töne nur, auf dem Klavier im Bassregister gespielt – mehr braucht es nicht, um eine Bewegung zu schaffen. Vijay Iyer nimmt sie mit der rechten Hand auf, verformt sie schnell zu eckigen Floskeln aus dem Schatzkästlein des Bebop und begibt sich auf eine Reise durch die Geschichte des Jazzpianos: Historicity, Titelstück und Opener des neuen Albums des Vijay Iyer Trios. Full Article
E METRO UK – Tempo tinkling is arresting
It’s not often that Italian philosopher and Marxist political theorist Antonio Gramsci gets namechecked in album liner notes. But then Vijay Iyer isn’t your average musician. Full Article
Jazz Podium September 2009
Vijay is featured on the cover of the September 2009 issue of the German magazine Jazz Podium.
Vijay is featured on the cover of the September 2009 issue of the German magazine JazzThetik.
The audience for jazz is shrinking and growing older fast, says Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout. His words have set off a heated debate in jazz circles. Today, Teachout joins us along with jazz pianist Vijay Iyer to discuss the future of America’s great art form and ask what needs to be done. Also: guitarist Smokey Hormel joins us for a live performance. Full Article
Like many, pianist Vijay Iyer first heard Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew” as a sample in A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation.” For ATCQ, Foster’s playful soul-jazz melody anchors a nodding beat. At Newport (and on the upcoming Historicity), Iyer takes that beat as a bed to his own version. It’s a strongly percussive take on an otherwise easygoing tune, and right around the 1:50 mark, Iyer absolutely soars. Thankfully, he repeats that ecstatic glide of keys at the song’s conclusion. –LG Full Article
Vijay Iyer might be a genius. He has a master’s degree in physics, an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts from Berkeley. He’s also a largely self-taught pianist — and a powerhouse player at that — and composer for string quartet, theatre, film, orchestra, spoken-word multimedia, free improvisation, ESPN commercials, etc. And as a jazz bandleader, his quartets and trios translate his post-idiomatic artistic outlook into spiky, supercharged songs. Full Article
The Stone was sweltering tonight. I attended Fieldwork’s late set and the heat and the music aligned to induce a very heavenly sort of delirium. Fieldwork is a band without a leader, still a rare thing in jazz. The members–saxist Steve Lehman, pianist Vijay Iyer and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, the latter of whom curates the Stone this month–are all well known for fronting various projects and generally being on forefront of contemporary-jazz bad-ass-ness. Together what they are is a machine. Full Article
Perhaps more than any other format in jazz the piano trio offers the greatest interactivity for rhythm, melody and harmony and some of its iconic exponents, from Garner and Powell to Monk and Jarret, have shown that magic can arise from moments when all three of the instruments appear to be one sound split into three, or possibly six or more constituent parts. Full Article
“Historicity” heißt das neue Album des Vijay Iyer Trios und seine Beschäftigung mit den Ursprüngen der Musik, mit ihrer in die Gegenwart reichenden Vergangenheit wird bereits durch den Titel des Albums offenbar. Vijay Iyer, amerikanischer Pianist mit indischen Wurzeln, hat das, was wir auf Neudeutsch “Migrationshintergrund” nennen. Full Article
Concerto magazine (Austria) :: Vijay Iyer concerto
Découvert il y a quelques années aux côtés de Steve Coleman, le pianiste Indo-Américain s’est forgé une solide réputation à la tête de ses différents trios ou lors ses collaborations avec Rudresh Mahanthappa. Il a déjà à son actif plus de onze albums en tant que leader ou co-leader. Il était de passage à Bruges lors de sa récente tournée européenne avec son trio, composé de Stephan Crump et Marcus Gilmore. Full Article
Vijay Iyer has obsessively explored less-traveled territory on his dozen leader albums over the past decade, which document his innovative trio, quartet and duo projects with Rudresh Mahanthappa, the experimental collective trio Fieldwork with Steve Lehman and Tyshawn Sorey, and collaborations with poets Amiri Baraka and Mike Ladd. Full Article
Vijay Iyer is a jazz pianist based in New York, US, who was voted the number one rising-star jazz artist and composer in Down Beat magazine’s international critics’ poll for 2006 and 2007. Full Article
Today, visionary artists such as Danilo Perez, Jason Moran, Marcus Roberts and Gonzalo Rubalcaba ignore contemporary musical expectations. Instead, each creates a world of sound according to his own rules, blithely defying conventions that lesser pianists venerate. Full Article
Pianist Vijay Iyer is one of the most intellectually restless improvising musicians in the world these days, and the rigorous compositional focus and fascinating conceptual depth in many of his projects can make it easy to overlook what a fantastic pianist he is. Full Article
The native New Yorker’s elegant, lyrical approach to improvisation is startling from the instant his fingers press upon the keys. Full Article
The hype surrounding jazz pianist Vijay Iyer is frighteningly reminiscent of the ocean of ink that greeted the arrival of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the “young lions” back in the ’80s. But Iyer delivers the goods. The son of Indian immigrants and a holder of two doctoral degrees, he’s a largely self-taught musician who apprenticed under creative leaders like Steve Coleman and Roscoe Mitchell. Full Article
Intention, tension, extension. These three words may represent the show of Vijay Iyer’s Mehndi trio and its music too. Full Article
At 37 years old, Vijay Iyer is one of the new stars of jazz. Downbeat Magazine’s International Critics’ Poll named him the number one rising star jazz artist and composer in 2006 and 2007, and The Village Voice described him as “the most commanding pianist and composer to emerge in recent years.” Listen to MP3
“I’m interested in what happens when the traditions collide, I love to be at that juncture,” pianist Vijay Iyer said the other day, in a conversation that ranged from his doctoral research to a new tune that draws on the work of the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. Full Article
Pianist Vijay Iyer’s latest release, Tragicomic, has seen the tops of numerous Best of 2008 lists. The album features his trio (with Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums) and quartet (add Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone) and is a spectacle of brilliant compositions paired with masterful playing on both individual and collective levels. Full Article
Does music matter? Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, in his popular book “How the Mind Works,” wrote that “music is auditory cheesecake,” a biologically inessential “pleasure technology” that developed as a serendipitous byproduct of behavioral evolution. Full Article
!t has been my distinct honor to interview the boundlessly innovative pianist/composer Vijay Iyer for the Pi Recordings Blog over the past week. Mr. Iyer’s most recent recordings, Tragicomic (Sunnyside Records) and Door (from the collaborative trio Fieldwork, Pi Recordings), are racking up rave reviews and positions on best-of 2008 lists as we near the end of the year. Full Article
Vijay Iyer :: Best of 2008
- THE VILLAGE VOICE :: 2008 Voice Jazz Poll Winners
- Chicago Reader :: Best of 2008
- Troy Collins’ Best of 2008
- Composer, clarinetist and more rise to the top
- Tragicomic makes multiple top 10 lists
- Geniuses Collide In 2008’s Best Jazz
- Desi Making Waves :: Visionary Vijay
- Best Music of 2008 – Fieldwork’s Door
- Top 10 Jazz
- blogdechoc :: Vijay Iyer
- Jazz 08 Part Three: Top Ten Albums of the Year
- Black Sound History :: Tragicomic
- Among the Best CDs for 2008
- The New Decay :: Tragicomic
- 50 Best Jazz CD od 2008
- Michael Patrick Brady :: Favorites of 2008
Jazz Consumer Guide: Little Innovations Run the World
With alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa waxing Coltrane-ish, it’s tempting to cast Iyer as the new-model McCoy Tyner. He plays with equal facility, but with no swing in his swagger. He sets up rumbling rhythms, then busts them up into abstract blocks. Full Article
Vijay Iyer :: 2008 CONCLUSION
- Desi Making Waves :: Visionary Vijay
- Best Music of 2008 – Fieldwork’s Door
- Top 10 Jazz
- blogdechoc :: Vijay Iyer
- Jazz 08 Part Three: Top Ten Albums of the Year
- Black Sound History :: Tragicomic
- Among the Best CDs for 2008
- The New Decay :: Tragicomic
- 50 Best Jazz CD od 2008
- Michael Patrick Brady :: Favorites of 2008
Critics were asked to list 10 albums in descending order, with 10 points awarded for their #1, 9 for #2, etc. Full Article
As a composer Iyer continues to refine both his stylistic ideas and his extramusical notions about politics and social identity–by now they’re razor sharp, and his band brings them to life in high-velocity workouts that flash by like lightning. Full Article
Narrowing down the hundreds of releases heard over a year to a mere handful is never an easy task. The new millennium has proven to be a fertile period for jazz (in all its guises); attempting to mention every album of a high caliber would result in a list of prolix proportions. In an effort to constrain such effusiveness, I have chosen the recordings I consistently returned to throughout the year. Full Article
By now, there can be no doubt that pianist-composer Iyer stands among the most daringly original jazz artists of the under-40 generation. Consider his latest CD, a sometimes explosive, sometimes contemplative opus of remarkable musical depth. Full Article
Vijay Iyer is a brilliant composer, pianist and producer who also holds advanced degrees in physics and technology and the arts. He’s worked with artists as varied as Dead Prez (a socially conscious hip-hop duo), Rudresh Mahanthappa (a forward-thinking jazz alto saxophonist) and DJ Spooky.
Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer staked his claim blurring the lines between jazz, world music, and collective improvisation.
THE DOZENS: VIJAY IYER SURVEYS THE MUSIC OF ANDREW HILL
In 1995, Vijay Iyer, then a 24-year-old Berkeley PhD candidate in Physics with an interest in the neurobiology of musical cognition, who was moonlighting as a gigging jazz pianist in the Bay Area, met educator/trombonist/computer installation artist George Lewis. “George set forth the idea of framing improvisation itself as a kind of inquiry, or critique or intellectual discourse, without losing the soul or heart of the music,” Iyer once recalled. Full Article
CHICAGO JAZZ FESTIVAL
By Howard Reich |Chicago Tribune critic
September 1, 2008
Two of the three world premieres that lit up the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park on Saturday evening were inspired by Obama’s quest, the composers told the crowd. The audience, or a rambunctious portion of it, roared its approval.
Politics aside, the night of premieres represented a high point in the long and turbulent saga of the Chicago Jazz Festival, which often has struggled against shrinking budgets in hard economic times.
For its anniversary year, though, the festival—which ended Sunday—sought to reassert itself by making music history. It did, thanks to one potential masterpiece that overshadowed the other premieres.
The pianist-composer Vijay Iyer has yet to become known to the general public, but he surely will if he continues to pen works as searing, original and dramatically charged as his suite “Far From Over.” Its title, Iyer told an audience of thousands, refers to the implications of an Obama victory.
“When Obama becomes president,” Iyer said, “there will be a lot of work to do” in attaining “justice” and “equality” in America.
“Far From Over,” which addressed a police shooting in New York, unfolded as a shattering, epic composition. In so doing, it reaffirmed Iyer’s stature as a composer-pianist with a distinctive voice and a visionary’s daring. If his latest CD, “Tragicomic,” drew upon his alluring mixture of Indian and American musical idioms, “Far From Over” developed these ideas on a nearly orchestral scale.
Though Iyer led a quintet in “Far From Over,” the new band sounded immense, its textures thick, its themes heroic. Yes, the piece opened with an Impressionistic swirl of color from Iyer’s piano, but it wasn’t long before Stephan Crump’s pulsing bass lines, Marcus Gilmore’s explosive drums and Ambrose Akinmusire’s piercing trumpet cries expressed the urgency and scope of Iyer’s instrumental suite. Add the penetrating, sitarlike effects of Prasanna’s electric guitar, and this band transcended expectations.
Moreover, the extraordinary harmonic complexity of this music, as well as its ingenious layering of themes and counter-themes, attested to the musical ambition of Iyer’s score.
Trumpeter Dave Douglas, a more celebrated jazz innovator, explicitly pledged his allegiance to Obama, titling his world-premiere piece “Chicago Calling: Bowie, Barack and Brass.” If this multimovement work paled a bit after the grandeur of Iyer’s suite, it nonetheless elegantly evoked—and updated—the brass-band tradition in jazz.
The revered composer-bandleader Gerald Wilson, who soon turns 90, closed the night leading his orchestra in the premiere of “Chicago Is,” a tone poem to the city. Its gorgeously bittersweet, streaked-with-dissonance main theme lingers in memory, though partly because of too many repetitions in an otherwise attractive work.
Vijay Iyer – Post-modern Meltdown
Pianist Vijay Iyer cuts a singular presence on the American jazz scene. With a cerebral, but accessible post-modern style, he has made his presence felt with a run of albums featuring his own cast of collaborators. Best known for his work with altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa and Mike Ladd he won Jazzwise album of the year in 2004 with In What Language? and since then has continued to craft a singular style that makes him stand out on the sometimes hidebound American scene. Kevin Le Gendre talks to Vijay ahead of the release of his latest albums Tragicomic and Door with Fieldwork and his London Jazz Festival appearance later in the year.Full Article
The Vijay Iyer Quartet trafficks in a surging, complex, mutant strain of post-bop, steeped in portent and incident. Led by Mr. Iyer, a relentlessly probing pianist, the group relies equally on the exertions of the alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, the bassist Stephan Crump and the drummer Marcus Gilmore.
The pianist starts his fourth quartet CD forebodingly, then launches into “Macaca Please,” a full-blast encapsulation of his concerns: diaspora politics and racism, post-postindustrial life and rhythmic innovation on a seemingly impossible level.
Like Rubalcaba, pianist Vijay Iyer has been pushing into uncharted music terrain, his ear for lush color and his taste for unorthodox scales and harmonies evident throughout “Tragicomic” (Sunnyside).
Brooklyn, New York. Una nuova generazione di talentuosi musicisti sta rinnovando il vocabolario del jazz contemporaneo, avendo come punto di riferimento imprescindibile l’operato di maestri come Steve Coleman e Tim Berne, Henry Threadgill e Anthony Braxton.
Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer is anything but predictable. Innovative and provocative, his music draws on an eclectic range of influences, including hiphop, West African drumming, South Indian classical music and, of course, jazz, assimilating and crafting these sounds into an indefinable yet readily identifiable style.
Downbeat :: Experimental Attitudes
Jason Moran, Matthew Shipp and Vijay Iyer have each developed his own personal playing and composing styles, and have emerged as leading figures in the jazz scene. So, when we sat them down for a discussion, the result was a conversation as interesting, creative and intense as their music. Full Article
El Entruso :: Tragicomic
Vijay Iyer, en pocos años, se ha constituido en una de las figuras con mayor aptitud creativa del firmamento musical. La amplitud de sus intereses artísticos y culturales y la infalible materialización de los mismos nos obligan a utilizar más de un concepto para definir el alcance de su obra. Full Article
Preview the jazz colours article on Vijay Iyer at jazz colours.com
Contemporary Jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer has a BA in math and physics from Yale and a Masters in physics from UC Berkely. But as he relates here, music came first. Iyer started playing the violin at age 3 and after a few detours came to his senses in his early twenties. In this wide-ranging interview Iyer discusses the politics of his music, the post 9/11 moment, and meeting the unknown. Watch video
Vijay Iyer’s quartet filled the Yale Law School courtyard with scintillating sound for 90 minutes Tuesday evening. The jazz pianist focused his attention primarily on a series of original compositions from “Tragicomic,” his new CD on Sunnyside Records. Full Article
Fieldwork is a cooperative band made up of a rotating cast of some of the best players in modern experimental jazz. This edition of the group includes Vijay Iyer on piano, Steve Lehman on alto saxophone and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, and the trio produces dense, knotty improvisations that are complex but never overly stuffy or boring. The music retains its excitement despite being dark, ominous and complicated. There is a lot of mystery and pent up emotion in between the notes that keeps the music constantly engaging and interesting. Full Article
The composition may have been written by bebop titan Bud Powell, but don’t let that fool you. Few pianists of the current day show less bebop influence in their playing than Vijay Iyer, and his version of “Comin’ Up” sounds nothing like Powell’s original. Instead of crisp comping chords, Iyer sends out waves of sound from the piano. Full Article
Pianist Vijay Iyer’s poly-stylistic take on the jazz tradition has fostered collaborations with a wide spectrum of artists, including M-Base founder Steve Coleman, avant garde legend Roscoe Mitchell and experimental hip-hop conceptualist Mike Ladd. As a self taught musician with a B.S. in Mathematics from Yale and a Masters in Physics and Ph.D in Technology and the Arts from UC Berkley, Iyer brings a visionary sensibility to his projects, always capturing the prevailing zeitgeist. Full Article
Whether through theatrical productions, poetry collaborations or standard jazz settings, Vijay Iyer uses music to comment on various aspects of contemporary culture. A pianist and composer of boundless intelligence and creativity, his appearance on a pair of excellent new releases displays his versatility in quartet and trio settings. Full Article
Expressing everything that is possible at one point in time is how art comes about. For visual artists, the limitations of the chosen medium frame and freeze the passion of the art. For musicians, the parameters comply with a different set of conditions. Music is concerned with time and the kinds of changes that occur within it. How those changes affect the listener complete a never-ending cyclical relationship. Full Article
Alright, it’s over. Robert Glasper and Jason Moran- both of whom brilliant young piano players- should know this already; Glasper’s only released three albums as a leader, and Jason Moran hasn’t come out with a new disc since early 2006’s “Artist in Residence.” In case there was ever any kind of question, this is Vijay Iyer’s decade, much like the 90’s belonged to Brad Mehldau. Full Article
“Iyer brings a visionary sensibility to his projects, always capturing the prevailing zeitgeist… With an expansive mindset, he moves beyond his cerebral beginnings to embrace traditional harmonies and thematic development with a sweeping sense of bittersweet melody… A stunning achievement, Tragicomic is one of the year’s best albums.”
“In the jazz world, it’s a fight for every musician to carve out his or her own little instrumental niche, to find that thing as a musician that makes them distinct. Some never do, others constantly change in a search for their style, and still others are just born to sound like no one but themselves. It’s not a stretch to put Vijay Iyer in that final category… a unique pianist who continues to show us what his instrument can do.”
“Tragicomic isn’t meant to simply reflect the state of our times; it is meant to help transform it… Tragicomic is a statement of transformation, of bittersweet existence in a world where information is easier to come by but harder to understand… Iyer’s music is never regressive nor is it overly nostalgic. Rather, the music on Tragicomic bears a visionary intent.”
“…[P]ianist Vijay Iyer is on his way to becoming one of the major jazz voices of his generation… [H]e has fully consolidated his early influences (Steve Coleman with M-Base, pianist Andrew Hill, and various Indian musical forms) in order to come to a personal language that’s immediately recognizable… Tragicomic is the most openhearted of Iyer’s instrumental albums and, perhaps not coincidentally, the most unabashedly emotional.”
“In his debut with Sunnyside Records, pianist Vijay Iyer continues to conceive a style and sound deserving of recent high critical acclaim. Iyer, who has been recognized with top honors as a rising star according to Down Beat, demonstrates a unique and highly personal understanding of the jazz language that could only be hampered by overly simplistic categorization… [T]he quartet, also including saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Stephan Crump, and drummer Marcus Gilmore, is intently focused throughout – the tightness displayed here is uncanny, and indicative of unquestionable dedication and effort. Iyer’s latest release is triumphant in many facets.”
The global jazz envoy on infusing instrumentals with social commentary
Acclaimed pianist, composer, and sonic conceptualist Vijay Iyer discusses how his two new releases, Tragicomic and Door, reflect the mercurial world around him. Iyer also provides a revealing glimpse into his creative process and his unquenchable thirst for fresh perspectives. Read Full Article
by Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News
“It won’t be released for another month but when it is, Vijay Iyer’s new Sunnyside disc “Tragicomic” is a near-certainty to be acclaimed as one of the best jazz discs of the year.
What is also a near-certainty is that the Iyer quartet concert that will doubtless preview some of the material in “Tragicomic” in the Albright- Knox Gallery at 3 p.m. Sunday will be one of the major events in this entire season of Albright-Knox Art of Jazz concerts.
Writes Iyer in the disc’s notes to explain the title: “Cornel West decodes the blues aesthetic as a tragicomic sensibility stemming from a sustained encounter with arguably history’s greatest, cruelest absurdity . . . A tragicomic outlook can ease our pains of metamorphosis and help us dream the next phase into being. That’s how and why this music was made.”
And what a quartet the Indian/ American pianist has making it – his frequent partner alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, the grandson, no less, of the great Roy Haynes. And how starkly beautiful and powerful is the music on it.
It is dark, insistent music, reminiscent in its modal harmonies and haunted minimalism and angularity of the best music of the late pianist Mal Waldron. Unlike Waldron, though, who was mostly known for his records with Coltrane and as Billie Holiday’s pianist, the 36-year-old Iyer has been an increasingly praised composer/pianist throughout his career. This, after all, is a Yale graduate with a masters in physics and an “interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts” from the University of California at Berkley. He represents, along with Brad Mehldau, another pianist his age, an almost entirely different kind of jazz pianist – formidably intellectual and not the slightest bit shy about it.
Nor is he politically shy in “Tragicomic.” One tune is called “Macaca Please” after the semicoherent racial slur by former U.S. senator from Virginia George Allen.
And when he plays a standard like “I’m All Smiles” (the only one on “Tragicomic”), the mood is just as ebony and indigo as everything else.
Coming to Buffalo, then, on Sunday is one of the most powerful quartets in all of emergent jazz.
by Kevin Le Gendre
by Ron Jacobs
There are a couple of discs out there in the world of music that bear listening. Echoing a modern world where paranoia masquerades as security and the fetish for material things has become religious in nature, these discs satirize and reject this world we find ourselves in. Nothing is sacred here, yet everything has value. Whether it’s a positive or negative worth is a matter of where one comes from. Like the music itself….
Vijay Iyer is the son of Indian immigrants raised in upstate New York. His works include the intriguing Memorophilia and the 2003 release Blood Sutra. Iyer expanded his jazz stylings in 2004 when he collaborated with hiphop artist Mike Ladd on the CD In What Language? This disc explores Iyer’s world of dual nationality and jazz with beats and piano. The lyrics are intoned by Mike Ladd, Latasha N. Nevada Diggs, Alison Easter and Ajay Naidu. They tell stories of police harassment and air travel and are based on the experiences of the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi at JFK airport in the spring of 2001. While he was changing planes at JFK Panahi was shackled to a bench in a holding cell by INS agents and and ultimately sent back to his previous departure point Hong Kong. As Panahi told the story, he wrote, “I wanted to tell my fellow passengers, “I’m not a thief! I’m not a murderer! I’m just a … filmmaker. But how to tell this? In what language?'” Hence the CD’s title.
The liner notes make the point of this work clear. “The airport is not a neutral place….This album is a commentary on the non-neutrality of transit.” For anyone who spends time in airports, they know this is true. There is a police presence always and there are divisions that are quite apparent if one only looks for them. Iyer and Ladd do this in a manner that transcends anything I could write here. Like any quality music, this disc becomes part of the listener’s consciousness if one allows it to.
Iyer’s second collaboration with Ladd, titled Still Life With Commentator, is a commentary on the world of information bombardment that we live in. At once replicating the cacophony of words and images we live within and without and a construct that shows how the packaging of that information makes us either at peace, fearful or frustrated, the album is frenetic at times and almost religious at others. Vijay’s keyboard magic enhances the words and enlightens the message. Indeed, the vocal and instrumental interplay on the piece “Cleaning Up the Mess” on Still Life With Commentator is transcendent in the manner that the best religious music is transcendent. Think Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis or the chants of the Gyuto Monks of Tibet. Those are moments when nothing comes between the listener and the spirit world. Yet here the lyrics are of a more temporal and earthly nature, if only because of their topic. Then there’s the tune (well, it’s not really a tune…it’s more like banter) titled “Fox N Friends.” This little spoof of the morning nonsense that passes for intelligent banter on the morning TV news shows is just plain funny. The words are irrelevant to the frenetic caffeine-laced cadence they maintain.
The tune “Infogee Rhapsody” opens the disc with a bass line that is also a heartbeat. Then the piano begins. Beyond Gil Scot Heron but taken from his seed, the lyrics wrench themselves from the dreamlike sounds of the music into your consciousness. Then it’s into a rap that headlines noises taken from the video game of your choice. A religious hymn of the Catholic variety titled “Cleaning up the Mess” follows. Vijay is a cerebral pianist that my ear cannot help but compare to Keith Jarrett and even Thelonious Monk. The music of Iyer and his combo is stream-of-consciousness poetry without words implanting themselves secretly in your being like a bird’s song heard first thing in the morning.
New York Times review of Raw Materials concert at JVC Jazz Festival: “Taking Composing Cues from the Number of Gods”
by Ben Ratliff
New York Times “Mr. Iyer worked through frantic tangles of chords, slowing down and speeding up by degrees, giving the music an undulating feeling. The piece started winding down to four repeated chords, and became prettier and clearer; it ended assuredly, with both musicians landing on the same note an octave apart… Most of these pieces come with little inside motors: Mr. Iyer often set an ostinato or a slowly rising pattern with his left hand and played tremolo or arpeggio patterns with his right…
“But ‘Remembrance,’ an elegiac ballad… was led by a slow and pretty melody, for which both musicians smeared their sound: Mr. Iyer used a sustain pedal, and Mr. Mahanthappa played webby, breathy saxophone notes.
“One of the challenges of a saxophone-piano duet is what to do about the lack of a drummer. Mr. Iyer and Mr. Mahanthappa have been playing together so much over the last 10 years, in different groups, that they find ways to fill the void with interweaving rhythmic accents; in their final piece of the night, fast and full of sliced-up patterns built on a steady groove, you could almost hear a phantom drummer. And it was a good one, young, learned and cool-headed.”
by Bob Verini
[C]onsistent invention and commitment mark Dickstein and team — especially composer Vijay Iyer and lighting designer Nicole Pearce — as talents to watch… [T]hesps shift with finesse among dialogue, Story Theater direct address and movement (both swift, gestural statements and longer dance set-pieces), all to the ravishing live accompaniment of Iyer’s sophisticated, raga- and jazz-influenced score.
The New Yorker
Dickstein’s cast enacts each story with glowing fullness, and Vijay Iyer’s liquid music shimmers throughout.
by Bob Massey
Washington Post Express
“SUDDENLY, WE WERE ALL JOURNALISTS,” said Vijay Iyer, recalling the 2003 prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. “That whole thing exploded at the same time the blogosphere came of age, and fueled it.”
The pianist and composer had recently created, with lyricist Mike Ladd, a stage show called “In What Language?” based on travel difficulties post-9/11 for people of color. And, he said, “We started to think about the role of the audience in modern warfare, basically.”
As outrage over black hoods and dangling wires lit up the Web, Iyer and Ladd crafted their info overload into a multimedia stage show for the BAM Next Wave festival. “Still Life With Commentator” visits Washington – the fountainhead of angry bloggery – on Friday.
Once, Iyer noted, “there were picnics at the Battle of Gettysburg,” Now, with the Internet, there’s “this intense level of remove – not only from the events, but from the people around us. So it’s a very emotional relationship we have with the news media and the blogosphere.”
Fertile territory for Ladd’s impressionistic post-hip-hop raps built from headlines, soundbites and poetic insights. “Mike writes these ironic landscape poems about the face of Dan Rather,” said Iyer. Or “Edward L. Bernays Flies the Hindenberg,” referring to the father of modern propaganda. Or “Jon Stewart on Crossfire,” a bittersweet number that could teach Timbaland a few production tricks.
Ladd’s wordplay reaches beyond hip-hop as far as Iyer’s score pushes beyond jazz. “This is the most electronic project I’ve ever done,” said Iyer, Downbeat magazine’s 2006 composer of the year. From eerie to anthemic, Iyer calls on glitchy mechanical textures, electro beats, shimmering piano, cello and guitar. Ladd’s gravelly raps blend into operatic vocals by avant-diva Pamela Z and monologues in Japanese.
The show, said Iyer, is not “a harangue. We want this to be a mutual celebration of where we’re at, finding what’s beautiful and what’s broken about it. One of the last lines is ‘Text me back, we are all in this together,’ so I think it’s pretty clear.”
by Lyn Horton
All About Jazz
“Once again keyboardist Vijay Iyer and vocalist Mike Ladd have collaborated brilliantly… The meaning of every segment of this work is transported with a musical richness that is absolutely perfect… Iyer has outdone himself in this extraordinary exposition. His versatility extends within the piece from playing the piano to sculpting highly ornamental yet structurally strong, formalized and rhythmic programming and sequencing. From the heartbeat-like pulse that introduces the dramatically edgy vocalization by Ladd to the dense diversified layering that expands and contracts throughout to the very last hint of explosive sound that closes the recording, this music transcends what any other contemporary classical composer could do… it is free and flexible and blends inextricably with the moments.
Ladd’s poetry pierces with raw pungency. He lets very little escape attention or examination. That is the beauty, intelligence and attraction of his poetry. The poetry intertwines disparate references and correlates them within numerous metaphors. When combined with the music, the poetry unites with a tempo that renders it unforgettable and haunting… Iyer has taken Ladd’s poetry into his being and transformed starkly political and razor-sharp criticism into a stunning reflection of our jagged cultural disconnections. Ladd and Iyer have humanized our world and remind us to believe in and practice what we know instinctually to be good.”
by Peter Burwasser
Philadelphia City Paper
“Vijay Iyer is probably best-known as a jazz pianist, and was the soloist for his first orchestral composition, “Interventions.” Combining an improvised solo with a scored ensemble is a tricky proposition. It is hard to avoid a kind of culture clash. Iyer is ambitious, but he brings it off with a heft and dramatic vision and a daring sense of soundscape.”
by Galen Brown
“…none of the first three pieces excited me in the way that two sections of Vijay Iyer’sInterventions did. Perhaps a third of the way in, the orchestra drops out and Iyer, who was playing the largely improvised piano part, lets loose with a set of rippling riffs while pre-processed drum and hi-hat loops bounce back and forth in the speakers… The piece’s long, static denouement was, for me, the heart of the piece. Most of the orchestra starts snapping their fingers in a steady slow rhythm, while the piano and strings give a long, droning, steady chord. It’s funny at first – you expect them to break into ‘boy, boy, crazy boy’- but as it continues the snaps reclaim their independence and provide an unusual sounding grid while the percussionist plays a slow pattern on a suspended cymbal. The cymbal pattern sounds regular, but out of sync with the snaps, but if it was truly regular I couldn’t figure out the pattern. The overall effect was gorgeous and entrancing, and I didn’t want it to stop.”
by Anthony Tommasini
The New York Times
“The piece, which includes elements where the players choose at will among riffs and motifs from a ‘gesture palette’ chart, as the composer calls it, did sound good, all spiky and sonorous, in this performance.”The New York Times
by David Patrick Stearns
“The other piece that immediately proclaimed its importance wasInterventions, the first orchestral work of New York-based, world-music-influenced Vijay Iyer. There, you had tangible references to American jazz – imagine Thelonious Monk in an anti-gravity chamber – in an episodic series of sound worlds (musicians snap their fingers at one point) within a clear frame of electronic sound.”
by Siddhartha Mitter
The Boston Globe
‘one of the most important jazz pianists of his generation… The “maximum creative risk” [that Vijay and his colleagues] are tackling is to make music that is not only brilliant, but relevant and democratic.’
by Will Friedwald
New York Sun
A discussion of recent discs by Vijay, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and vocalist Sachal Vasandani. “[A]ll three young men are talents imminently worthy of our continued attention.”
by John Murph
“new music offers a surge of political dissent”
by Peter Margasak
Down Beat Magazine
**** (FOUR STARS) “At a time when so many jazz musicians eschew the chance to use their work to comment on the volatile state of world affairs, particularly the American role in the current mess, pianist Vijay Iyer is making a habit of laying it on the line. His second collaboration with the hip-hop poet and MC Mike Ladd presents a dizzyingly dense look at our present Internet-obsessed information age, and how the news is no longer news but something like oxygen… There’s plenty to digest here… a rich assemblage of electronic beats and textures and the organic melodic embroidery from Iyer, cellist Okkyung Lee and guitarist Liberty Ellman. The proceedings shift between hip-hop, art song and avant-garde soul… Ladd’s lyrics are imagistic, juggling heady wordplay and the contemporary media theory mumbo jumbo that makes a virtual tomorrow seem equally horrific and comforting… It’s an idea-crammed piece of which I’m still making sense a dozen listens later. It doesn’t show its hand casually and it seems to revel in its ability to make the listener nervous. That’s some high praise.
“GLOBAL JAZZ: Pianist Vijay Iyer’s cutting-edge music draws on the Indian rhythms of his heritage with post-bop, hip-hop and more”
by Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press
Iyer, 35, is best known for the organic way he draws on his South Indian heritage in his music. [He] has forged a cutting-edge aesthetic rooted in jazz but saturated with dense Indian and funk rhythms, incantatory improvisations and churning group interaction. Nothing in jazz sounds quite like Iyer’s long-running quartet, which makes its Detroit debut Friday at the Max M. Fisher Music Center.
Iyer’s originality, emblematic of a flood of globalism coursing through contemporary jazz, has made him one of the most talked about young pianists in jazz. Iyer swept both the rising star pianist and composer categories in the 2006 critics poll run by Down Beat, the bible of jazz magazines…
The Indian influence in Iyer’s music is most apparent in the zigzag rhythms, the way intricately layered patterns lie across the beat… at its best, the heady mathematical concepts morph into such strong elliptical grooves that listeners find their heads bobbing involuntarily… There is also a surprise around every corner…
Still, it’s reductive to see Iyer and Mahanthappa only through the prism of their shared heritage. Both have been equally informed by the experience of growing up brown in America as opposed to specifically Indian, and various strains of African-American music, from Prince to hip-hop to John Coltrane, are wired into their DNA.
“All of this stuff is part of who we are as Americans,” says Iyer.
by David Adler
“…these Iyer-Ladd creations are unfailingly imaginative and significant… Still Life is awash in “post-human” beatmaking but often pulses with lyricism. Ladd’s delivery is throaty, peculiar in the best sense, a hip-hop vernacular with highbrow dimension. Iyer’s deserved acclaim as a jazz composer and pianist also makes him noteworthy in a wider world of art… By refusing categorization in an overly rigid jazz field, these musicians further jazz’s purposes by ingraining its sensibility among different publics – one important way for the music to operate in the 21st century.”
by Nate Chinen
The New York Times
“[I]t shrewdly traffics in spectacle. As a blizzard of word, sound, image and movement, “Still Life” proposes nothing short of a sensory assault. Of course, that’s exactly the point: the piece, with its uneasy resonances, holds up a fun-house mirror to our culture of information overload. And somehow the results are not just galling, but also often gripping. Like the subject of its critique, it draws you in.”
by Martin Johnson
The New York Sun
by Nate Chinen
The New York Times
‘STILL LIFE WITH COMMENTATOR: AN ORATORIO’ The brazen theatricality of the modern news cycle has inspired no shortage of satire. “Still Life With Commentator,” a multimedia performance piece that will have its premiere next week under the auspices of the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, angles itself just slightly outward, implicating the viewer in its critique. Conceived as an oratorio, it’s a collaborative product of the pianist Vijay Iyer and the poet Mike Ladd, whose previous work together – a 2003 Asia Society commission called “In What Language? A Song Cycle of Lives in Transit” – received wide acclaim. The libretto’s tone often ricochets between elegiac and sardonic, with allusions ranging from Abu Ghraib to Dr. Phil. Much of the music is laptop-generated, a swirl of ominous textures and hypnotic rhythms, … with frequent flashes of improvisation by Mr. Iyer… these elements commingle suggestively. A movement called “Riding on the Intro Graphics to Cable News” has the insistent one-note stutter of an actual broadcast theme, with better beats. “Jon Stewart on Crossfire” hinges on a deadpan phrase (“Please stop; you’re hurting America”) that Guillermo E. Brown sings like a pop hook. The guitarist Liberty Ellman, the cellist Okkyung Lee and the vocalists Pamela Z, above; Masayasu Nakanishi; and Palina Jonsdottir contribute further to the experience, which will be staged and sculptured at the Brooklyn Academy by the conceptual artist and theatrical director Ibrahim Quraishi. If it all works, the end result should be disquieting and engaging, suggesting the intoxicating dread so often sparked by coverage of any real or manufactured crisis. It’s a quandary articulated by Pamela Z’s operatic soprano early on: “Surrender to nightmares for the rest of your days, just so you can say, ‘I was there.’ ”
by Dan Emerson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
“Making his Twin Cities debut Thursday night at the Walker Art Center, pianist and composer Vijay Iyer showed why he’s become one of the most acclaimed “new” artists in jazz. Iyer and his quartet played an engrossing, roughly 90-minute set of original music that skillfully blended post-bebop, classical, Indian and even funk/hip-hop colors.
In jazz or any other genre, when “new” music is created, it’s often the result of combining elements from disparate cultures, genres, eras, etc. The trick is to blend those elements in a seamless, somewhat logically flowing manner, to avoid creating a musical hodgepodge.
The result is the kind of fresh-sounding, original music played by Iyer and his combo, an innovative mix of complexity and understatement…
Although he is categorized as a jazz artist, jazz is only one of the colors in his palette. Iyer’s classical training and his ethnic heritage (his parents emigrated to the U.S. from India) seem equally present in his music…
The 35-year-old pianist favors lengthy, complicated melodic and rhythmic schemes akin to those found in Indian music, and elaborate arpeggios that evoke European classical music. In jazz terms, his taste for abstract surprising solo lines invites comparison to Andrew Hill, one of the great, groundbreaking pianist/composers of the post-bop era.
The band’s talented alto saxophonist, Rudresh Mahanthappa, has been Iyer’s collaborator and ideal onstage “sparring partner” for the past 10 years. Much of the onstage fireworks Thursday were generated by the nimble-fingered, be-boppish riffs Mahanthappa played to complement or counter Iyer’s musical statements.
The funk/hip-hop rhythms in the group’s sound are supplied by 20-year-old drummer Marcus Gilmore, the grandson of Hall of Fame jazz drummer Roy Haynes. The complicated rhythmic schemes found in Iyer’s compositions demand a rarefied level of drum mastery and on-the-fly creativity, and the precocious Gilmore is the right man for the job.
Acoustic bassist Stephan Crump is a Memphis native whose diverse resume includes stints with blues bands, rockers and other avant-garde jazzers such as saxophonist Sonny Fortune and drummer Bobby Previte.
Put those diverse backgrounds together and the result is a band that is, in effect, a four-piece orchestra – and the musical epitome of the phrase “more than the sum of the parts.”
Downbeat Magazine International Critics Poll feature: Rising Star Jazz Artist and Composer of the Year
by James Hale
“…not an artist who is going to cleave to the well-trod path of young jazz pianists… Iyer continues to branch out into new areas of expression.”
by John Book
“What you will hear is communication and dialogue not only between musicians, but between them and the listener. Simply put, this is music you have to take a serious listen… The songs on this sound like a page out of the diary of a New Yorker, especially ‘Forgotten System,’ as its constant frantic pace keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering which direction it will go next. Much of the tone on Raw Materials is dark and melancholy, but the metaphorical clouds break apart in the beautiful (and appropriately titled) ‘Hope,’ which comes off as dialogue like John Coltrane’s ‘Psalm’ on A Love Supreme. Heartfelt is putting it lightly. It is a remarkable album that I hope will continue with more recordings together, and more explorations of music and life in their individual projects.”
by Paul Olson
All About Jazz
a fascinating look into a unique contemporary musical dialogue… [V]ery few recordings reveal such a richness or complexity of emotion and continue to reveal more of these qualities listen after listen.
by Jay Collins
All About Jazz
[B]lending mainstream virtuosity with avant garde expressivity… they play with exuberance on assertive passages and restraint during introspective moments… Mahanthappa’s circuitous spiral runs knit with Iyer’s percussive arpeggios as the duo weaves an intricate tapestry… When not soaring over Iyer’s pneumatic comping, Mahanthappa drifts from controlled multiphonics to searing, lyrical intensity with ease. Demonstrating the entire spectrum of his talent, Iyer modulates his attack from resounding sustain and hyper linear keyboard runs to muted chords and pianissimo rumblings during the set’s ballads… Iyer and Mahanthappa’s intuitive rapport makes rewarding listening. Stripped to the barest of essentials, Raw Materials proves that sometimes less is more.
by K. Leander Williams
Time Out New York
“their most striking collaboration yet. A series of confident duets, the set combines stateliness with rawness… It’s like seeing two sides of the same coin.”
by Ron Wynn
Fieldwork stretch and in some instances shatter all notions regarding what constitutes both mainstream and avant-garde jazz, eschewing blues, ballads, hard bop and reconfigured show tunes. Pianist Vijay Iyer, alto saxophonist Steve Lehman and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee craft intense, compelling and often startling music emphasizing collective interplay as much as, if not more than, free-wheeling instrumental monologues. Certainly pieces like Iyer’s bustling “Headlong,” which blends Asian music references and odd time signatures with gorgeous keyboard phrasing, or the magical “Telematic” that smartly combines slashing drumming, a swirling, declarative alto statement and more frenetic piano, embody the experimental sensibility of outside material. But all three players are both virtuoso soloists and great accompanists, and these pieces carefully balance individual contributions and group performances. The results are delightful and memorable, if often unorthodox.
“This stunning record reveals an extraordinary synergy among the musicians as they meld traditions of American jazz with South Indian classical music and a hint of Erik Satie.”
Vijay Iyer: “Reimagining” (Savoy Jazz). With each recording, pianist Iyer looms as a larger figure in jazz, his sound immense, his concept bold, his ideas bracingly unorthodox. Is it possible that a single pianist on a single recording could produce such a galvanizing sweep of sound in the opening track, “Revolutions”; such spare but decisive chords in its follow-up, “Inertia”; such plush sonic effects on “Song for Midwood”? Iyer’s tireless imagination on piano, and his breadth of expression as composer make “Reimagining” the epic statement it is and Iyer one of the most promising voices in jazz today.
Vijay Iyer, “Reimagining” (Savoy Jazz): Teaming, as he frequently does, with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, the Indian-American pianist combines rapturous emotion and knotty intellect, grounding his restlessly shifting patterns with his hard percussive attack
“VIJAY IYER:Reimagining (Savoy) Cyclical Indian rhythms new to jazz are only part of the story. The rest of it is in the young pianist’s whiplash compositions and lightning rapport with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.”
“VIJAY IYER:Reimagining (Savoy) Pianism is one reason to pay heed to this quartet outing, Iyer’s strongest yet. Another is his rhythm concepts beguiling, befuddling, and legitimately new.”
FIELDWORK: Simulated Progress (Pi)
by Fred Kaplan
Vijay Iyer is a daunting young pianist. Holding advanced degrees in physics as well as music, he composes in mathematical patterns, with sometimes overly schematic results. But not on this album. Reimagining, featuring his quartet, is a quiet scorcher; it simmers rather than boils. His playing relies on repetition, to the point where slight variations take on a riveting drama. He and his saxophonist, Rudresh Mahanthappa, are sons of Indian immigrants, and they work South Asian rhythms into the mix. Iyer ends the album with a hauntingly dreamlike solo take on John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
by Adam Hill
The Big Takeover
#1. Vijay Iyer,Reimagining (Savoy). The best thing going in jazz these days is Vijay Iyer, and this is my favorite jazz record of the year.
by David Adler
by Ron Wynn
Fieldwork isnt exactly your prototype jazz trio. The crew includes the exciting pianist Vijay Iyer, a fiery and often surprising alto/sopranino saxophonist Steve Lehman and a sterling percussionist Elliot Humberto Kavee. The 11 pieces featured on Simulated Progress are just as unusual… [A]nyone that enjoys thoughtful, unpredictable and keenly played music will find Simulated Progress quite rewarding.
by David Greenberger
Metroland, Albany, NY
Fieldwork are a collective ensemble of a sort [that] first came into [its] own in the 60s. Scenes coalesced in New York City, Chicago and St. Louis, and with the advent of loft venues in the 70s, places like New Haven. The trio [has] been an especially rich format, allowing three voices to remain distinct while sympathetically addressing the sound as a whole. Fieldwork are a worthy successor to the legacy of Air and the brief but bracing tenure of Oliver Lake’s trio with Pheeroan ak Laff and Michael Gregory Jackson. Anchored by pianist Vijay Iyer, now the only original member, this is the trio’s second offering. With a busy schedule of diverse solo and collaborative projects, Iyer has been clear in his commitment to maintaining an equal voice for all three members, in terms of the writing, arrangements and soloing. In addition, each of them write in ways that reflect a desire to bring forth important contributions from the others. On saxophonist Steve Lehman’s Media Studies, the piano’s angular chordal patterns define much of the shape of the piece. Drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee’s Gaudi charges forward like an engine of majestic and regal bearing, with the full assault of all three members making it ascend daringly, like its namesake’s Barcelonian spires.
by Troy Collins
Having made the leap to the majors, pianist and composer Vijay Iyer’s Savoy debut Reimagining sounds no less intense than his previous independent releases than it does more fully realized. Where his previous quartet offerings, 2003’s Blood Sutra and 2001’s Panoptic Modes were youthful explorations full of brio, Reimagining inverts the equation by promoting tunefulness over unbridled enthusiasm. This recurrent focus on melody in all its bittersweet glory continues to arrive bolstered by an undercurrent of rhythmic turbulence.
The son of Indian immigrants, like his long-term foil, altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa, Iyer has a truly equitable worldview in regards to the jazz canon and its influences. Abstracted break beats, funky ostinatos, splintery tone clusters, knotty angularity, even introspective melody all make their way into his systematic structures. Iyer employs one of the most tireless rhythm sections in contemporary jazz, capable of supporting harmonic counterpoint, modulating time signatures and layered polyrhythms all at once. Long term bassist Stephan Crump holds down the low end while 19 year old newcomer (and grandson of Roy Haynes) Marcus Gilmore more than holds his own in the company of giants. Altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa is a distinctive stylist with a most cerebral approach. Like the free-er cousin of former M-Basers Greg Osby and Steve Coleman, releasing waves of cyclical arpeggios with his searing white-hot tone, he is the perfect match for Iyer’s own ecstatic excursions. Hammered left hand root notes and dissonant block chords intermingle with swirling right hand pyrotechnics. Industrious without being flamboyant, Iyer occasionally reveals a deft sense of touch, especially on his deconstructed, darkly minimalist solo interpretation of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Iyer’s seminal involvement with Steve Coleman’s M-Base school of hyper rhythmic metric modulation and its structural dependence on polyrythms is still evident in his quartet writing. Full of angular linearity and mind-numbing time shifts, the quartet’s roiling, syncopated undertow is so intricate it practically defies standard time signatures. But this time out, melody is given not only a nod, but precedent over angularity and odd time signatures. This new found focus on song forms adds one more layer to the quartet’s already heady brew. Some of Iyer’s most emotionally resonant playing is manifest on this album. The quartet’s intricate level of interplay embodies a sense of adventurousness to it that is sorely missing in most contemporary acoustic jazz.
While Iyer and his peers Jason Moran and Matthew Shipp have long been touted as the Second Coming for post-free-jazz pianists, they have all taken pains to mature their craft and in so doing creating a body of work that is thrilling on more than just a primal level. Reimagining officially announces Iyer has fully arrived as a player to be reckoned with.
by Troy Collins
“As a trio dedicated to the driving principle of rhythmic exploration, Fieldwork has few equals.”
by Derek Michael
Straight No Chaser
On this latest outing Vijay Iyer renders compositions of ominous beauty, through the polymetric strata of cascading piano and saxaphonic glossolalia, not so much accompanied as ignored by punctuation on the bass, and some ineffably elastic drumming from an 18-year old Marcus Gilmore. It’s a surveillance of Euro-Afro-Asiatic-America’s past-present-future, a stark terrain of tension and hope, with Iyer’s ceaseless reverberations charging a hypnotic mood. ‘Reimagining’ follows last year’s much lauded ‘In What Language’ , a collaboration with the inconoclastic Mike Ladd, and is further evidence that this rigorous and evolving player – accompanied here by Rudresh Mahanthappa, Stephan Crump, and the aforementioned Gilmore – is one of the most noteworthy artists of the day.
by Nate Chinen
The New York Times
“Collectivism can be a tricky aspiration for any jazz ensemble. Jazz is a soloist’s art – that’s the prevailing presumption, anyway – and it’s not easy to subvert the heroic ideal. Not easy, but possible, especially in the avant-garde. And as Fieldwork proved at the Jazz Gallery on Tuesday, the results are often intriguing…
The sound of the group is darkly astringent, with an unsettled quality that hints at contemporary anxieties. Partly this is by thematic design; Mr. Iyer, in his other projects, has trafficked in sharp social commentary. More directly, the restlessness is a result of rhythmic strategies borrowed from South Indian music and other sources; Fieldwork’s pulse is more cyclical than symmetrical, confounding Western notation.
Mr. Iyer was the compass and center. The absence of a bassist emphasized the range of his piano playing, which tends toward a supple sort of percussiveness – as if he were pressing, not striking, the keys. And his compositions were distinctive exercises. “Accumulated Gestures,” which came near the end of the set, featured abstruse scraps of pianism, a tangle of signature phrases.
But Fieldwork doesn’t sound like Mr. Iyer’s other ensembles, and for good reason. Mr. Lehman and Mr. Sorey, superbly skilled musicians in their 20’s, have each applied a personal stamp to the trio’s sound, even as they are enveloped by it.
Mr. Sorey, who can be a steamroller in other settings, managed an undulating deftness, most strikingly on “Futile,” his own composition. He fragmented the beat, but lightly, with controlled restraint. Throughout the set, his charm was in smoothing out rhythmic wrinkles and rounding sharp edges.
Mr. Lehman maintained a modest stoicism as well, refraining from any interjection that might offset the equipoise of the ensemble. He often served not as a lead voice but as a textural or structural element. On the off-kilter “Telematic,” he coaxed a conch-shell tonality from his alto and then moved on to a sputtering riff that functioned as a bass line.
…[T]he rigor of the music was impossible not to admire – it was both loose-limbed and tightly controlled – and even the inscrutability was beguiling, most of the time.
Half the songs came from Fieldwork’s recent album “Simulated Progress” (Pi), a document that no longer seems fully descriptive of the group’s cohesion. The ultimate measure of the set was the extent to which the musicians disappeared into the fabric of the ensemble, component parts of an enigmatic whole.
by David Adler
JazzTimes, October 2005
“…personnel changes have not diminished Fieldwork’s power and coherence… Fieldwork’s rhythmic logic can be immensely involved, but the results are disarmingly concise. The music is also rich in paradox: dark yet uplifting, intellectually demanding yet effortlessly funky.”
by Jay Collins
One Final Note
Pianist Vijay Iyer’s last few records have placed him squarely in the vanguard of modern jazz… Iyer’s music is shrewdly unique, managing to be both challenging and highly alluring at once.
As for Fieldwork… The group’s sound is forged out of terse compositional sketches that are transformed due to a hearty practice regimen, resulting in energized improvisational tapestries. The musical results thrive upon the rush of Iyer’s powerful pianistics and Kavee’s burnished beats, while Lehman lays down or doubles the pulsing rhythms or spews forth throbbing ribbons that remind of his teachers’Anthony Braxton and Jackie McLean’but also of the glass shards of the Steve Coleman/Greg Osby axis. The program itself contains 11 varied tracks that surge with emotion, flex with tension, and bubble with dark hues.
Given the above, then, the trio’s sound might easily signal M-Base comparisons, particularly on the opening polyrhythms of ‘Headlong’ or due to the slippery funk groove that anchors ‘Telematic’. However, such accusations are too simplistic a moniker for these envelope-pushers. Indeed, the heady mix of source materials inspires an air of mysticism or solemnity that has a crucial, stark impact on the record…
Curiously, nary a day seems to go by without cries that today’s artists are mere parrots or that there is nothing left to do with the music. Spin Simulated Progress and see for yourself.
by Jeff Jackson
If you think jazz has run out of fresh voices, Vijay Iyer’s Reimagining is a wake-up call, showcasing both the pianist’s angular keyboard attack and memorable compositions. The album brims with spiky grooves, teasing melodies, and interlocking ensemble playing. Critics cite Iyer’s use of traditional Indian rhythmic patterns, but you’re just as likely to hear hints of Monk, minimalism and modern electronica. The album concludes with a blissful solo piano rendition of “Imagine,” which is almost unrecognizable but succeeds on its own merits. It’s a powerful nod to a jazz tradition — making the old sound new again.
by Edward Kane
Vijay Iyer’s Reimagining is a fine album and one of the biggest releases yet from the revitalized Savoy Jazz label. Savoy has brought out discs from several distinguished artists over the last couple of years, and in signing the pianist Iyer they have added a brilliant player that seems to be squarely in his music-making prime. Reimagining is a cauldron of moods and styles, Iyer and associates keeping the music simmering but never allowing it to boil over.
Iyer’s composing and playing is somewhat difficult to describe in reductionist terms. “Revolutions,” for example, begins with the pianist playing a short, simple figure repeatedly a la Glass or Reich. But Iyer is no minimalist; with Marcus Gilmore’s syncopation and Stephan Crump’s forceful bass leading the way, the tune soon modulates into more familiar jazz territory, with Rudresh Mahanthappa’s busy but sweet-toned alto saxophone cresting on top. Echoes of Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and McCoy Tyner are all audible at times and to varying degrees in his playing, but Iyer’s style is unique and well-developed.
Iyer gives us nine originals and caps the set off with a highly personalized solo reading of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” There is a lot going on on each track of this record. Iyer’s compositions are full of counterpoints, and members of the quartet run with them. It takes repeated listening to sort through everything that’s going on, and it is well worth the effort to do so. Reimagining is a brilliant effort from Vijay Iyer and a coup for Savoy Jazz.
by Kevin Whitehead
by George Varga
Between them, the three members of Fieldwork have collaborated with a dizzying array of artists, from Me’Shell Ndegocello and Dead Prez to avant-jazz visionaries Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and San Diego’s Mark Dresser. On their second album, “Simulated Progress,” pianist Vijay Iyer, saxophonist Steve Lehman and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee (who has since been replaced by Tyshawn Sorey) engage in a series of dazzling dialogues that aim equally for listeners’ feet and minds. Together, they create intensely rhythmic music that combines jazz ingenuity, rock velocity and World Music savvy. Their visceral compositions constantly blur the lines between improvised flights of fancy and expertly calibrated arrangements. They also benefit from the aural expertise of Scotty Hard, whose previous production and engineering credits range from Wu Tang Clan and Salif Keita to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Einsturzende Neubauten. The result is a heady, punchy outing that could serve as a template for daring, forward-looking musicians everywhere.
Fieldwork is the sound of jazz exploding and raining down shards of glass upon our heads… [T]he piano-sax-drums trio wraps dense harmonic sheets around off-kilter rhythmic patterns that manage to groove no matter how mind-bogglingly complex they get. Fieldwork’s music is foreboding and unrelentingly intense, with a dark mysticism that places it somewhere between Indian classical music and Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.
by Jim Macnie
Here’s a jazz trio that forces abstraction to take on a lyrical cogency while still yielding to kinetics. So at various points Vijay Iyer’s clusters and Steve Lehman’s shredding take on an oddly reflective mood. These “against-type” moments help make Simulated Progress a tension-filled achievement. New drummer Tyshawn Sorey is sure to bring some curves to their signature angles.
by Paul Olson
All About Jazz
…a dazzling, intrepid sort of new jazz that’s as deeply interactive as anything you’re likely to hear this year… Stuff like this feels genuinely dangerous. Like three mountain climbers roped together, this trio traverses musical precipices that are real, immense, and perilous. Yet there’s a restraint and control that make this in many ways the antithesis of free jazz… The greatest compliment that can be paid to Simulated Progress is that there is nothing else out there that sounds like it. This is difficult music. In its risk-taking, fragility, and fearlessness, it’s also very thrilling.
by Siddhartha Mitter
The Boston Globe
If there is a jazz musician of the moment, Vijay Iyer may well be it. The Indian-American pianist has gone in the past year from underground favorite to emerging mainstream sensation with a gripping, thought-provoking sound and a body of work that includes straight-ahead post-bop efforts, avant-garde collective improvisation, and collaborations with poets, rappers, and DJs… It takes Iyer just a few bars to demolish the false distinction between ”cerebral” and ”emotional” music. His approach is both at once. It has a rigorous, geometric quality, the sort of searching tone that induces both melancholy and insight, and moments of rapture that are nothing short of spine-tingling. The key to all three effects is rhythm, which Iyer establishes by means of vamps and cyclical forms, rolling the keys like waves in a steady wind. It’s a music of momentum, always lurching forward even in its quietest phases… Like his predecessors in the ”percussive” school of jazz piano — Thelonious Monk, Andrew Hill, Randy Weston, Muhal Richard Abrams, Cecil Taylor, all of whom he cites as influences — Iyer has taken on the challenge of generating rhythm and phrase, structure and form. It means that he rarely lays out, nor does he take many conventional solos, when playing in a group. But he can also use rhythm and repetition to produce dense, haunting atmospherics working at his piano alone… The current quartet gathers Iyer, Mahanthappa, bassist Stephan Crump, and the remarkable 18-year-old drummer Marcus Gilmore, a grandson of venerable Boston drummer Roy Haynes. As Iyer’s roiling sound propels Mahanthappa’s saxophone over the turbulence, his soaring melodic style redolent of John Coltrane, the two display the sort of intuitive connection that produces great improvised music.
The New York Times
He appeared about 10 years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area, a very young jazz pianist bursting with micro- and macro- and meta-theories. He wanted to unite jazz and funk, Indian drone elements and swing; he also seemed to want to synthesize four pianists, related but still diverse: Duke Ellington, Andrew Hill, Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor… Now Mr. Iyer, above, leads a quartet that includes Mr. Mahanthappa, Mr. Crump and the drummer Marcus Gilmore, who is only 19 [sic] but has the potential to become one of the bulldozing presences in New York jazz. The band’s most recent album, “Reimagining” (Savoy Jazz), is its best, and Mr. Iyer’s gigs are attaining a newly urgent momentum, with some genuine lyricism offsetting the rhythm attack. He’s a jazz musician of the moment, and now’s the time to hear him.
by Paul Olson
All About Jazz
by Thom Jurek
All Music Guide
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 “Infogee’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.
by Thomas Conrad
Iyer is an academic, but he is entirely self-taught as a pianist and possesses the infinite free choices of the autodidact. His music contains his South Asian heritage and also a vast array of interests and influences, including diverse world musics, his own academic disciplines, rock ‘n’ roll and a preoccupation with John Coltrane (who was strongly affected by Indian music). The outcome is heady drones, swirling sonic washes and endlessly intricate counterpoint. Iyer’s music fulfills a deep-seated need of many improvised-music fans: to hear what has never been heard before. Many players promise it. Few deliver. Iyer does.
Reimagining carries over alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and bassist Stephan Crump from Iyer’s widely praised previous recording, Blood Sutra. Eighteen-year-old Marcus Gilmore is the new drummer. All sound entirely at home in this very special musical house, especially Mahanthappa, who fills the tiniest spaces in Iyer’s pianistic densities with bright penetrations, in fierce contrapuntal continuums. There are no comfort zones-no familiar rhythmic patterns, no beginnings or middles or ends. Yet pieces like “Experience” and “Revolutions” make you remember the defining moments of the John Coltrane Quartet, when musical careening suddenly coheres into a liberated lyricism you never saw coming. Meanwhile, the heavy, ominous chords at first surround John Lennon’s innocent “Imagine” in darkness, but break through into a more hopeful single-note affirmation of the melody at the end. The most interesting question about Iyer is how, having fully elaborated a unique and specific musical space, he goes forward from here.
by Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press
Globalism has long been a fact of life in jazz. But in recent years the free trade of ideas has picked up steam, broadening the expressive language of the music with new influences, and deepening the connections between American swing, improvisation and blues with rhythms, grammar and formal devices from an ever-expanding menu of fresh source material…
Iyer’s quartet — which includes longtime partner Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto, Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums — is … remarkably close knit. The music on “Reimagining” is dense with waves of odd-metered Indian and funk rhythms, open harmony, heart-of-darkness overtones, incantatory solos and a churning pool of group interaction.
On “Revolutions,” the pianist’s rolling ideas spill through both hands like a rushing river. His touch is liquid and percussive. Mahanthappa’s edgy and careening alto is similarly contoured. “Inertia” finds Iyer evoking modern classical influences with ominously repeating pedal chords in the left hand and a prickly right hand melody wandering like a spooky apparition.
“Song for Midwood” suggests a meditative chant. A scent of funk emanates from “Infogee’s Cakewalk.” “Cardio” and “Phalanx” propose layers of polyrhythms that are tricky to count but yield emotionally satisfying music… These players are forging their own sound full of discipline, freedom and surprise, and that’s what jazz is all about.
by Nate Chinen
[R]ecently, … I reexamined the peculiar position Iyer inhabits in the realm of jazz. A distinctive pianist and intensely creative composer, he has been lauded not only by the usual sources but also such jazz-averse publications as U.S. News and World Report. Still, it’s unlikely that many at IAJE had ever heard his music. Those who had were likely to subject it to categorization-as evidenced by the well-intentioned urge to uphold Iyer as a spokesman for “jazz and hip-hop,” or “jazz and Indian music,” or “jazz and racial considerations.” This is the pigeonholing that keeps Iyer at arm’s length from the jazz tradition, despite his own intentions and experience. The irony is that his work preempts such perceptions…
by Francis Davis
The Village Voice
…so strong in conception and performance it seems only a matter of time before the same sort of consensus Jason Moran inspired a few years ago begins to form around Iyer… Iyer’s triumph is in understanding that composition and improvisation each have something to gain when they overlap. There’s something novel going on from beginning to end in each track, and although it’s occasionally a simple matter of dynamics (as on “Inertia,” the album’s closest thing to a ballad), it’s more often a case of rhythmic layering or metrical subdivision (examples include “Song for Midwood,” which proves 7/4 can be funky, and “Infogee’s Cakewalk,” which reconfigures a hip-hop rhythm into New Orleans second line). I’m unable to say if any of this is the result of childhood osmosis or Iyer’s self-conscious immersion in traditional Carnatic music as an adult. I know too little about Indian music, North or South, to speak with authority, besides which jazz is still a melting pot’it’s assimilated so many diverse musical strains by this point, and particularly in recent years, that attempting to pinpoint where in the world anything came from is a fool’s game.
by Paul Olson
All About Jazz
…an organic, austere consistency of vision and accomplishment that’s simply stunning… The quartet of Iyer, altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Stephan Crump, and new drummer Marcus Gilmore achieves an internal sympathy and rapport that’s unsurpassed by any working jazz group today… Iyer’s work has a tempering emotional content that separates him from the majority of his New York peers; it’s technically demanding, but it serves a deeper muse of pure feeling… Writers have compared Iyer and Mahanthappa’s rapport to that of McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane, and the music is often built around ostinati and modes. But there’s an equality of status between Iyer and Mahanthappa, and a uniqueness of attack, that render the comparison helpful but insufficient. No two jazz players today work together with such unified purpose.
by Howard Reich
In the past decade or so, a new generation of jazz artists has reinvigorated the art form with the musical impulses of foreign cultures… The point rang out again over the weekend, when pianist Vijay Iyer led his startlingly effective quartet at the Green Mill Jazz Club. Joined by alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, a comparably adventurous musician who could be considered Iyer’s alter ego (or vice versa), the pianist-bandleader explored the place where American jazz and traditional Indian music intersect, while also pushing into otherwise unexpected territory.Iyer and Mahanthappa for years have brought elements of their Indian cultural heritage to bear on their jazz improvisations, but never before has the merger sounded as persuasive or seamless as it did Friday night at the Green Mill. Rather than merely apply Indian scales and melodic patterns to jazz-improvisational techniques, they absorbed the spirit and sensibility of this music into the framework of an unflinchingly forward-looking jazz quartet. Imagine the fervor of Indian chant ‘ with its hypnotically repeated, gloriously melismatic turns of phrase ‘ pulsing in a music that’s already harmonically pungent and rhythmically alive, and you have a rough idea of the urgency and originality of this idiom. Yet Iyer, in particular, never veered into densely arcane passagework or abstruse chordal structures. If in previous years he sometimes has overstated his case, nearly overwhelming the music with all-over-the-keyboard virtuosity, on this occasion he tempered his pianism. By offering lushly pictorial playing on “Revolutions,” introspective soliloquies on “Inertia” and traces of funk rhythm in other works, Iyer rendered his approach more accessible than ever. The same tunes, incidentally, drive Iyer’s exceptional new recording, the aptly named “Reimagining” (on Savoy Jazz).
Anyone who heard Mahanthappa when he lived in Chicago, in the 1990s, will recall the torrents of sound that he produced on alto saxophone. But Mahanthappa has come a long way since then, harnessing his energy, enriching his tone and focusing his improvisations. The smoldering intensity of his sometimes fleet, sometimes incantatory phrases, particularly on the searing “Song for Midwood,” represented a new highpoint in his maturation.Yet this quartet wouldn’t be nearly so powerful were it not for the rhythmic collaboration among Iyer, pianist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore. The three players practically have become a single rhythmic organism; if they build on this achievement in coming years, they could emerge as one of the great rhythm units of the day.
by Lloyd Sachs
With “Reimagining,” his first album for Savoy Jazz, pianist Vijay Iyer moves on up in terms of visibility — and in terms of accomplishment. This is his strongest effort yet, balancing rapturous emotion and knotty intellect, melodic flow and rhythmic heft…
by Charles Walker
[O]n occasion[,] some new disc ‘ like this one ‘ puts everything in perspective, sending you scrambling to hide all your heavy sights and woe-is-me waiting because something truly great has finally arrived on your doorstep… it is the rare disc such as pianist Vijay Iyer’s transcendent new Reimagining that makes the piles of halfway-energetic almost-theres sound like so much sonic spare change… The real surprise here is that it doesn’t even sound all that separate from his earlier work ‘ angular and edgy small-group fringe bop, M-BASE abstraction motored by ringing, almost elegiac arpeggio repetitions; but on record, Iyer’s own voice has never been so focused, so clear, and so devastatingly powerful in its emotional heft. It is knotty, but not too; turgid, but full of tangible hooks that grip at the core; underscored with tiny, writhing renovations on the fly that neither tear the structure down nor leave it standing still for too long: in short, it is the first great jazz album of 2005. Melancholy musings about the ‘state of jazz’ can be checked on your right, to be retrieved at the end of the show… Iyer is equipped with a whole arsenal of gimmick-less tricks, and hearing him unfurl one astonishing surprise after another is a true delight: sudden tempo changes, cat-and-mouse intervallic substitutions, telepathic two-handed in(ter)dependence; these are the axles around which the pianist’s full-bodied improvisations rotate…. Reimagining stands as his first unequivocally great statement as a leader ‘ his intimidating technical prowess is placed in the service of a soulful, cerebral personality… to create his own unique, important space on the sonic map.
by Colin Buttimer
Iyer plays with a ringing bell-like tone that recalls both McCoy Tyner and Nina Simone at her most wrought, then drops small descending chords like blessings… The music conveys a narrative quality that’s very much driven by the leader that combines with a strong lyrical sense to create intensely engaging music. The album ends with a solo piano cover of John Lennon’s Imagine which appears to act as a cornerstone for the whole project. The song is turned into a seesawing, driving and complex piece at whose heart is a new determination arguably lacking in the original.
Boston Globe review of In What Language?: “Exhilarating jazz, spoken word take off in airport setting”
by Siddhartha Mitter
For all the talk about the emergence of global culture, art that successfully explores the emotional content of globalization remains rare. ”In What Language?,” a project of jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and writer, producer, and performer Mike Ladd, is a triumph of a genre that doesn’t yet exist. The 80-minute ”song cycle” of human lives caught up in globalization’s swirl is a model of what makes good art connect: It is aggressively ambitious yet unfailingly accessible and deeply empathetic.
The CD version of ”In What Language?” was one of last year’s best new releases, a forward-looking jazz hybrid with a global hip-hop sensibility. But as a large audience at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Fine Arts Center discovered Thursday evening, the project achieves its fullest impact as a multimedia stage piece. Eleven musicians and vocalists improvise to Iyer’s composition and Ladd’s libretto in front of a huge screen flickering with images of airports and the activities that take place there.
Iyer is one of the most exciting new voices in jazz, as comfortable with fragmented and spliced electronic production as he is with straight-ahead phrasings. He’s assembled a group of kindred spirits, mainly from the New York scene, including saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and an extraordinary cellist, Okkyung Lee. As befits the airport theme, the sound proceeds in gaps and rushes, reflective at points and at others exhilarating, particularly when Iyer drives his hypnotic piano chords to crescendo.
Ladd, who was raised in Boston and attended Hampshire College, is the sort of polymath poet who gives ”spoken word” a good name. He and fellow vocalists Latasha Diggs, Allison Easter, and Rizwan Mirza, whose precise facial movements recalled the elegance of Indian classical dance, assume a series of identities: the South Asian cab driver, the Senegalese vendor, the Iraqi businessman, the Jamaican woman who operates the airport X-ray machine.
The characters are poignant and full of humor, never caricatures, a completely believable lens onto what the authors call the ”hyphenated perspectives” of our time. This honesty, most of all, is what distinguishes the project and allows it to sidestep all the clich’s that globalization usually evokes. Iyer and Ladd call their project ”not just a collection of travelers’ tales. . . . It is our attempt to make sense of the tumultuous world around us.” For all the dislocation they portray — migration, exile, deportation — their outlook is optimistic, even exciting.
by Gaiutra Bahadur
The immigrant experience, packed into airports ringing with song, checks in at the Painted Bride…
by Nate Chinen
The Village Voice
by Alan Lockwood
The New York Press
Live, Iyer’s a study in well-situated ease and concentrated intensity. At a busy Tonic benefit at last year, he opened with his band then swept over that venue’s weary piano as if he were in the Bosendorfer showroom, weaving intricate melodic textures with a driving sense of rhythm…
by Bill Milkowski
In the Tap Bar, Vijay Iyer’s Quintet [sic] lit up the cramped confines with new material from an upcoming Savoy debut, Reimagining (due out in May). With alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa blowing with white hot intensity and Bird-like facility, bassist Stephan Crump weaving deep, sinuous counterpoint lines and the amazing drum prodigy, 17-year-old Marcus Gilmore (Roy Haynes’ grandson), crackling behind the kit with uncanny precision and power, Iyer’s band delivered a dynamic set marked by provocative, high-energy blowouts like the urgent ‘Revolution’ and the darkly dissonant ‘Inertia.’ For a change of pace they offered the poignant ‘Song [for] Midwood,’ Iyer’s ode to the Brooklyn neighborhood also known as Little Pakistan…
by Luca vtx Leccese
All About Jazz / Italy
…il pianista Vijay Iyer… ‘ impeccabile nelle esecuzioni delle tracce acustiche, laddove quelle pi’ di matrice elettronica sono, come al solito, orchestrate magnificamente dal nostro Ladd.
by Jon Pareles
The New York Times
by Alex Dutilh
Atmosph’re mouvante, entre-deux entre jazz et rap, entre message engag’ et musique sensuelle, entre vibration acoustique et vision electronique, entre densit’ des textures et ‘vidence des mots. Une musique forte, br’lante, urgente, brillante… irr’sistible.
by Manu Vimalassery
by Stefan Braidwood
by Matthew Ingram, Andy Hamilton
[onIn What Language?]… The predominant theme is modern jazz, unsurprising given the heavyweight credentials of Iyer… This isn’t to ignore that Iyer’s playing here owes as much to Steve Reich as Don Pullen… the text provides ample motivation for this eclectic collage of sounds…Ladd is particularly impressive in character as [Last Poet] Jalal Nuriddin… This fusion of performance poetry and jazz carries echoes of The Last Poets, the operatic ambitions of Archie Shepp’sAttica Blues, shades of Divine Styler’s jazz-inflectedSpiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light and even dystopian touches from Jon Hassell’sCity: Works of Fiction.
[onBlood Sutra] “It’s good to see John Snyder resurrecting his Artists House label and especially to see him working with pianist Vijay Iyer. Once a member of the Bay Area’s Asian-American scene, Iyer has returned to New York and has a new group… The plangent spread chords of the opening ‘Proximity’ are a clarion. They presage dark, challenging explorations such as ‘Brute Facts,’ an exercise in brutalism, turbid and unremitting, with the pianist pushing Mahanthappa to ecstatic heights in his solos. Confirmation that Iyer is one of the scene’s most original players.”
by Michael Rosenstein
One Final Note
On [his previous] releases, Iyer charted a truly pan-cultural aesthetic, combining a foundation in free jazz with his South Indian cultural roots; all refracted through a highly personalized view of melodic, rhythmic, and improvisational development… — Iyer has constructed a pulsating flow from twelve compositional frameworks that move back and forth between tight, collective counterpoint and multi-threaded spontaneity. Pieces segue into each other with an organic sense, paced with time signatures that weave a complex pattern, drawing on free jazz pulse, allusions to South Indian classical forms, and even hip-hop groove. But it is all pulled off so naturally that the listener gets carried along in the infectious flow. Part of the reason may be the striking melodies that form a connective thread for the improvisations. A piece like “Because of Guns (hey joe redux)” is a perfect example, deconstructing the core theme of Hendrix’s signature tune into a free-blues swagger. — But more importantly, it is the skilled musicianship of the quartet. Iyer spins off constantly morphing variations on the melodic themes while prodding and stretching at the pulse. Mahanthappa’s tart alto provides a perfect foil, playing off of Iyer’s fractured lines with countering, angular logic full of jubilant vigor. Crump’s bass expands the role of time-keeper; providing a critical melodic and rhythmic anchor for the cascading pieces. This frees up Sorey, who responds with an elastic sense of rhythm that carries the music along with a buoyant energy. What is so astounding is that, as accomplished as it is, this release represents only a single facet of Iyer’s music. Anyone wondering if the jazz quartet has lost its vitality should look no further than this release.
by Molly Sheridan
New York Press
…it feels like I can’t open a magazine these days without seeing composer/pianist Vijay Iyer’s name in it… It probably helps that he’s just put out two new discs: Blood Sutra, which grabbed the No. 8 spot on the JazzTimes 2003 critics’ poll and In What Language?, a collaboration with spoken-word artist/poet Mike Ladd that neatly draws on elements of jazz, funk, hiphop etc., to tackle the experience of navigating airport security these days as person of color. Much like Phil Kline’s recent Zippo Songs, In What Language? is strikingly good music that also comments more boldly and directly on our current political/social reality than most newspaper editorials…. His music carries a lot of different influences, usually including an energy and a beat that make it hard to sit still…
“Arpeggios crash beneath the voice of Mike Ladd. Complimenting metaphors of social, political, and personal commentary are juxtaposed within the framework of Airport travels. An unusual concept… Ladd’s ingenious use of language shines through each self-penned lyric. The soundscapes created by Vijay Iyer move between classical, urban improvisation, the abstract and unclassifiable. They create a homogenous balance between voice and message, each of which is personalised by an array of characters. ‘In What Language?’ encoudages dedicated listening; a much needed challenge for those of us being starved of anything thought provoking!”
by Kevin Le Gendre
“Iyer is one of the most interesting young American improvisers that you probably haven’t heard of… Mike Ladd is the maverick MC and spoken wordsmith who you should have heard of… Iyer and Ladd’s collaboration slides almost directly into the lineage of… bridge building between the worlds of the avant-garde and electronica. It’s sonically exciting, idiomatically blurring. Most of allIn What Language? is a political tour de force; a vivid, cogent, at times arresting 17 piece song cycle that becomes a powerful evocation of the immigrant experience at zero hour, where predatory paranoia poisons race relations to the core. Iyer and ladd… come across as two hemispheres of the same brain. The pianist has written in an agitated and agitating fashion, using semi-classical motifs and spooky spirals of chords as the flickering lights that illuminatae the runway of Ladd’s texts. At times Iyer’s compositions float as statically and oppressively as those customs queues that never moves, at times they shuttle into intense, intrepid propulsion, like the blue touch paper arguments that break out over ‘ID’. In each piece there is light, shade, ebb, and flow in the music that sketches out drum & M-base or haunted Asian-inflected laments where Iyer’s harmonic subtleties come to the fore. Imagine this in conjunction with penetrating Ladd lines such as ‘We are the vegetation that will subdue the lobby in the airport’ and you have a profound, potent work… [an] important, moving meditation on the destructive static of discrimination… an artistically accomplished protest piece from two brave, uncompromising players… The airport is not a neutral place. And this is not a neutral album.”
by David Fricke
“A song cycle of powerful narrative invention and ravishing trance-jazz,In What Language? is about nothing less than the death of trust. In the post-9/11 world, we are all suspects: probed, interrogated, x-rayed, doubted… Poet Mike Ladd vividly echoes that outrage and desperation in the raps and spoken-word reveries here, seventeen pointed fictions and candid reflections on exile, quarantine, suspicion and skin, performed by a moving corps of voices. Pianist-composer Vijay Iyer amplifies that tangle of anger, pain, and motion with a spinning-wheel score for jazz-rock septet: roiling outbreaks of fusion, lusty sighs of brass, jolts of electro hip-hop. There is a beautiful resilience here, too – in Iyer’s cleansing cascades of piano and Ladd’s declaration near the end of the album: ‘I swallow whole every complexity and digest all the answers / And no answers will emerge, only music, food and family in the air.”In What Language? is a compelling, provocative record about a world grown smaller, meaner and more fearful. It is also an eloquent tribute to the stubborn, regenerative powers of the human spirit.
[onBlood Sutra] “Here’s another reason why Iyer is a rising star in jazz: a straight-ahead date of dynamic composition and rapturous improvisation with Rudresh Mahanthappa, Stephan Crump and Tyshawn Sorey… Iyer is fond of unanswered questions, writing melodies that romp and soar just shy of resolution. But the four musicians explore and distend these tunes – including a turbulent variation on the folk-rock murder ballad “Hey Joe” – in the literal spirit of the album title: with the hot, tight telepathy of blood kin.”
by John Walters
“…a stimulating collection of travellers’ tales. Ladd’s words get under the skin of several characters… You might expect an angry blast, given the subject matter, and the mood is certainly tense, but the words, whether opaque, poetic or direct, thankfully lack the whingeing profanity of everyday hip-hop and address a complex subject with subtlety – even humour. Iyer’s music embraces many styles, from sequenced beats (Three Lotto Stories) through edgy swing (The Color of My Circumference IV) to a chilled, dinner-jazz ambience (Taking Back the Airplane), featuring Liberty Ellman’s guitar, Allison Easter’s supple spoken-word performance and the composer’s chiming piano.”
by Keith Goetzman
[onBlood Sutra]”This young Indian American pianist knows his Ellington as well as his Monk, and his vibrant music deftly bridges the pre- and post-bop worlds while adding a fresh Asian twist… Iyer is an intellectual yet passionate player to look out for.”
by Anastasia Tsioulcas
Jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and poet Mike Ladd understand the strange energy of an airport: constant restlessness, sterile anonymity and an ultra-charged atmosphere post-Sept. 11, 2001. With Iyer working as composer and Ladd as librettist, the two weave together elements of jazz, hip-hop and spoken-word art into a new, subversive kind of song cycle. Shifting constantly between narratives, their kaleidoscopic lens sees the airline passenger as both the viewer and the viewed. Cultural and political references fly fast and furious, shifting as quickly as the musical mood. As much as this album is a potent political statement, it is also a fine work of music’just listen to the crackling energy of “The Density of the 19th Century,” the Reich-like, hypnotic, circling piano figures of “DeGaulle” or the rolling, majestic balladry of “Plastic Bag.” This is a disc that demands repeat listening.
by Ben Ratliff
The New York Times
…With a seven-piece band playing odd-meter funk, lulling ambient chords, blots of rhythm under Indian-accented raps, it’s that elusive thing, underground political music that sounds good. And though its points of origin are far from the mainstream of either hip-hop or jazz, let’s count it as a breakthrough hip-hop-jazz fusion. Because if we do, it’s one of the smartest I’ve heard, and one of the few that really works.
by Charles Walker
“Once in a while an album comes along that so completely synthesizes the disparate sounds of its time that one can almost hear the shifting of future recordings as they scramble to adjust to the new standard…In What Language? is an absolutely critical release… [D]espite all of the damaged transit and interrupted stop gap motion of its unfolding, it ultimately unfurls with moments of untranslatable, authoritative communication, leaving behind a broad-ranging yet focused story that says important truths about our society to those willing to listen. At the threshold of our 21st Century, there could hardly be a more telling terminus by which to observe the interaction of these currents, cradled carefully past their disconnections into creative synthesis.”
by Jay Collins
Signal to Noise magazine
…challenging, potent music that takes risks and offers substantial rewards…In What Language? [is] a monumental work that seamlessly combines sound and voice for an artistic statement that should reverberate for years to come… It is simply a masterpiece…
Blood Sutra andIn What Language made numerous critics’ top-ten lists as well as the overall top-50 list:Blood Sutra ranked #8 overall;In What Language is #41.
by Chris Nickson
All Music Guide
“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.”
by Richard Scheinin
San Jose Mercury News
Pianist/keyboardist Iyer fuses post-Coltrane jazz, hip-hop rhythms and the political texts of poet Ladd in this spirited suite from one of jazz’s best new indie labels.
by Nate Chinen
Philadelphia City Paper
“Iyer has been a critical favorite for a few years now, but never before have his ideas found so articulate an expression. Together with this year’s operatic epic, In What Language? (Pi), Blood Sutra reveals the pianist’s acute sensitivity to theme and variation, and his experimental yet ever-accessible approach.”
by Nate Dorward
Iyer’s fourth disc, this is easily his best so far, still having the fierceness of Panoptic Modes but now more subtly modulated over the course of the album, & finally peaking on a wrenching, epic reading of “Hey Joe”.
The internationally syndicated radio program Studio 360 had a program focusing on the theme of “Flight,” with co-host Erica Jong (author of “Fear of Flying”). An audio recording of the show is archived on the site – scroll down for the feature on IWL.
by Gene Santoro
“The first thing you feel is the energy. Sitting in a New York club where Vijay Iyer’s quartet is performing, you are buffeted by gusts of intensity, information encoded in such viscerally propulsive musical form it apparently won’t be denied — even if, thanks to the elusive process of artistic refraction, that information can’t be fully decoded on the first, fifteenth, or fiftieth listening. When the group tears into a Jimi Hendrix tribute, “Hey Joe” [“Because of Guns”], the stunning ten minutes embodies homage without dwindling into mimicry: Iyer’s Monk-ish percussive piano and deft pedals mix and spread tones in a dense rainbow of harmonics, evoking the thick, chewy textures of Hendrix’s revolutionary guitar. The polyrhythms ride serrated edges, cluster and burst, evoking Hendrix’s rhythm section’s emulation of John Coltrane’s; the recurrent coil-and-release charges the music with fevered immediacy despite its intellectual structures, its often complex meters and harmonies. Though there isusually a soloist, mostly foregrounded is the group’s kinetic motion, the mobile interaction of its parts; foreground and background lap and dissolve. As physical assault, Iyer & Co. may not rival Metallica, but they rock this 150-seat venue the same way Trane inspired rockers like Hendrix with his rich art’s slash-to-the-soul cutting edge…”
by Glenn Astarita
Down Beat Magazine, December 2003
Pianist/composer Vijay Iyer is a rhythmic powerhouse…
[OnIn What Language?] 4 1/2 STARS (OUT OF 5) Iyer and Ladd interconnect layers of effects to complement an electro-acoustic production awash with looping ostinato grooves, horns, string overlays and perky funk/techno beats. Ladd and the actors’ recitations are extraordinarily moving…
[OnBlood Sutra]… the quartet goes for the gusto via an abundance of strenuously enacted grooves… the soloists’ harmonically inventive choruses impart a symmetrically oriented odyssey of discovery.
Jeez, with all the comfort and joy flying around this season, you might require some sounds with teeth as a tonic. To that end, meet Vijay Iyer… [P]ianist Iyer followed the yellow brick road from the Bay Area to the Big Apple, from whence springs Blood Sutra, a set of thorny, economical compositions for piano, sax, acoustic bass, and drums. Iyer’s style is a fine balance between brainy abstraction, quirky lyricism, and percussive vigor.
by Nate Chinen
JazzTimes, November 2003
“This year could well serve as a landmark for Iyer. In particular, the fall release of these two recordings constitutes an accomplishment akin to critical mass…
“The cohesive group’s ethos [onBlood Sutra] is at once reflective and kinetic… There’s something utterly distinct about Iyer’s approach. His piano playing can be broad and onsweeping or minutely detailed, but the primary constant is the suppleness of his touch and the liquid warmth of his tone. His way with the quartet is equally impressive, especially with regard to pulse: The ensemble’s rhythmic patterns don’t seem imposed or dictated so much as issued effortlessly from a center, like the concentric ripples on a pond… [W]ithout crossing into pretentiousness, Iyer’s crew manages to avoid many of the standard trappings of small-group jazz… This is exciting and eminently listenable stuff, intuitive in bearing and dynamic in execution. An essential for adventurous listeners,Blood Sutra could also serve as an ideal introduction to Iyer’s burgeoning oeuvre…
“The great success ofIn What Language? can be measured by the seamlessness with which Ladd’s verse meets Iyer’s music. The strength of their collaborative efforts can hardly be overstated… The marriage of sound and word are so complete that it becomes impossible to imagine one component of the project without the other… More than anything, ‘In What Language?’ signals a culmination of Iyer’s vision. The music he presents here — groovy and shape-shifting, slippery yet concrete — amounts to a tour de force… Steeped in the language of South Asian and pan-African culture but trafficking in universal impulses, the suite fulfills not only the dictates of its premise but also the actualization of Iyer’s fascinating and still-evolving conception.”
by Eric Waggoner
“Vijay Iyer builds on the promise of 2000’sPanoptic Modes.Blood Sutra simply raises Iyer’s writing and playing to the next level.Panoptic Modes was, in large part, a meditation on the heavy Asian influences in Iyer’s percussive compositional style… By contrast,Blood Sutra finds him engaging in sharply diverse but well-balanced forms on each track – and coming up a winner every time…
Scarcely into his thirties, Iyer plays with the confidence of an artist several decades older. The precision of his quartet is a factor as well. Rudresh Mahanthappa and Stephan Crump are longtime collaborators, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey might as well be. The music is so tight that there’s barely space between the notes.
Not simply a great jazz record,Blood Sutra is a statement of purpose from an artist whose youth stands in contrast to his irrefutable skill.
by Nate Dorward
While the dancing Indian rhythms thatPanoptic Modes drew upon aren’t left behind on the new disc, the intensity of its newfound engagement with the rhythmic energy of pop (from rock to hip-hop) is immediately noticeable, and the results strikingly original. Iyer has long since stopped sounding like anyone in particular, though passages can suggest everything from Andrew Hill toThe Inner Mounting Flame. The plethora of jazz artists who seem to think time signatures like 5/4 and 7/8 are still “daring” should be strapped down and forced to listen to what he’s doing – it’s so complex in places that it’s hard to figure out what the basic count is, yet it actually comes off with the kind of deep-set, compulsive groove that Greg Osby would kill for. Sorey is a key addition: with Crump and/or Iyer’s left hand keeping hold of the pulse, he ranges further afield than Phillips. Like other state-of-the-art drummers (Nasheet Waits comes to mind), he seems to be on perpetual fast forward or rewind, the drums tumbling, stuttering and miraculously righting themselves.
This is often severe music, but its intensities and hard-won ecstasies are of the kind that invite rather than repel. The pianist’s short note in the booklet reveals that the pieces are drawn from a much longer suite, concerning interrelated themes that cluster around “blood” as substance and symbol: “health, kinship, identity, race, violence, liquidity, desire.” The linkage is felt at an emotional level rather than musically explicit – each piece is self-contained, and only the decision to omit breaks between several tracks hints that they are parts of a whole. But just as Iyer has learned how to pace a performance – for a good example, listen to “Imagined Nations”, a bristling dance floor stomp that achieves some superb moments of frenzy without hectoring the listener -Blood Sutra as a whole is carefully structured. Iyer doesn’t reveal his hand too early on, so that it only becomes clear over the album’s duration how its energies come to converge on the epic “Because of Guns (Hey Joe Redux)”, one of the most compelling jazz glosses on Hendrix I’ve heard, in which Iyer’s new line all but pulls the tune apart. Inevitably but nonetheless satisfyingly, the closing “Desiring” is a peaceful coda to the foregoing tumult.Panoptic Modes was good, but withBlood Sutra Iyer’s stars are finally in alignment: this is essential listening for followers of contemporary jazz.
by Dan McClenaghan
All About Jazz
The pianist is becoming the new standard bearer of the percussive school of playing… Vijay Iyer evolves in fascinating fashion.
by Bret Saunders
“Vijay Iyer’s promise as a player and thinker comes to fruition on ‘Blood Sutra’ (Artists House). The pianist has a knack for making cutting statements without resorting to displays of technical wizardry – he doesn’t waste a note. Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa keeps up with Iyer note for note, and the overall feeling here is rejuvenation for outside-leaning music.” [Also listed in “Best jazz of 2003” on Dec 14.]
by Dan Ouellette
“New York-based pianist Vijay Iyer dances and pounces on the keys; he swings and swaggers; he plays into pockets of hushed lyricism, then charges with riveting thrusts that bloom into fiery coils of rhythm. Still unknown by most jazz aficionados, Iyer released two new albums Oct. 21… Both sets reveal Iyer’s brilliance as a composer and improviser.”
by S. D. Feeney
Though self-taught as a pianist and composer, Vijay Iyer earned a Ph.D in music and cognitive science from U. C. Berkeley. Somehow, that interdisciplinary academic record seems to fit well with the way his music gets inside your head in mysterious and compelling ways. Iyer’s latest disc, Blood Sutra (Artists House), picks up on the energy which has connected all his work, whether under his own leadership, that of others or in collective projects like last year’s great album by the group Fieldwork. Intense, hard hitting, heavy but, miraculously, not grating, his music swirls and surges with post-bop fire and, yet, inwardness abounds. It’s almost scary the way he puts it all together.
Greg Osby and Steve Coleman are obvious reference points for the music of Iyer. Their leanings toward funk, pop and various world music currents are evinced in the upstate New York native’s approach as well. Particularly present are the meditative modes of Iyer’s ancestral origins in South Asia. He knows something of the Blues as well. “Imagined Nations” is a good example of how Iyer takes off from a Steve Coleman-esque vamp and adds layers of chordal structure and rhythmic variation to take the piece in a direction that listeners soon find makes up a distinctive Iyer sound. The music seeks a higher plain. Like the music of John Coltrane, it’s about attaining a state of consciousness above and beyond… well, just above and beyond.
Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, a frequent Iyer collaborator, plays with controlled abandon throughout. He’s like a (cleanly) hyped-up bopper whose turf extends to Bombay. Reeling off line after line of amazingly hot improvisations, he’s a wonder in himself. The group is rounded out by Stephan Crump on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, the latter a powerful polyrhythmic presence.
Not everything is full tilt on this fine recording. “When History Sleeps” and “Desiring” reveal a delicacy of touch on the part of Iyer that makes me long for more. I haven’t even mentioned the quartet’s take on “Hey Joe.” It’s likely to amuse and delight Hendrix fans and might very well serve as a nice encore piece for the group’s live shows, which I hope someday soon will include a gig up this way. Good stuff (again) from Iyer!
by Tad Hendrickson
[onIn What Language?] An ambitious collaboration between acclaimed pianist/composer Vijay Iyer and literate hip-hop producer Mike Ladd, In What Language is a meditation on the politics of culture and race in this post-9/11 world using airline travel as thematic unifier… Equally jazz and hip-hop, this is a true conversation between diverse but thinking individuals, and nothing was lost in translation.
[Blood Sutra] highlight[s] the strength of his hard-driving, forward-thinking quartet. With formidable saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Stephan Crump and the hard-hitting Tyshawn Sorey on drums, the pianist leads the group through a complex and constantly shifting compositions that are gracefully rendered by a band that’s spent time really playing to together. Even better than the critically acclaimedPanoptic Modes,Blood Sutra’s angular rhythms and ringing harmonies announce Iyer’s arrival as a musical force to be reckoned with.
by Bruce Gallanter
Downtown Music Gallery
[onIn What Language?]I am reminded of Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” with a continuous moving vibe at the center, like a train ride. The four voices take turn describing our journey and making observations about our trip. The music is filled with a continuous, yet evolving set of infectious grooves that seduce us as the words fill us with frustration, resignation and anger at authority figures, those who tell us what to do. Occasionally the mood lightens up a bit and the words/voices become more reflective, the music almost soothing. All in all, this is a provocative treasure chest of highly focused thoughts and sounds, giving us an example of what a successful modern day opera could be. If the word “opera” bothers you, forget that I mentioned it and dig this anyway.
[OnBlood Sutra] “Proximity” is a gorgeous, somber opening for the piano trio, a calm intro before the storm erupts. The quartet leaps into the aptly titled “Brute Facts” with resourceful power, the heavy currents swirling intensely. Rudresh sails high and wide with some of those Steve Coleman-like aggressive sparks, navigating the rapids that the rest Vijay’s group provides. Vijay always does an amazing job of balancing a few inter-connected threads simultaneously. His left hand provides the ebb and flow and structure that bass and drums connect with as his right hand weaves lines around the snarling, spirited notes that Rudresh’s alto sax spews forth. The quartet turn down the flame on the laid back, yet enchanting “When History Sleeps” which features some marvelous mallet work from Tyshawn and lovely, lyrical solo from Rudresh. Tyshawn is the new drummer in town to watch out for… The quartet sounds as if they are on fire, just incredible… This is another wonderful effort from Vijay Iyer and his magnificent quartet.
by Nathaniel Friedman
Digital City Philadelphia
“There are few musicians in jazz today as original — or as wholly refreshing — as Vijay Iyer… Mixing postmodern blues and funk, John Cage-ish avant-garde, obscure pianists like Andrew Hill and Herbie Nichols, and a wildly inclusive internationalism, Iyer might seem like just a musical potpourri. But what’s most impressive about this up-and-coming innovator… is the seamlessness with which he pulls it off. Iyer isn’t the first to draw on such a wild array of elements. But as the moody forthrightness of ‘Blood Sutra’ proves, he’s one of the few to do it so convincingly and honestly.”
by Bettina Swigger
Colorado Springs Independent
For the last few years, critics have said nothing but good things about this up-and-coming jazz pianist and composer. But, as many jazz listeners know, that doesn’t mean the music is an easy listen. On the contrary, Blood Sutra is a terrifically challenging record. But challenging music is often the most rewarding, and this suite of 12 perfectly interlocking songs follows through on that promise. Iyer’s unique percussive style is reminiscent of new music compositions (George Crumb comes to mind), with complicated rhythmic patterns and nearly constant dissonant chord modulations. But Iyer alone does not make this record — the frantic free-jazz arpeggios of alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and the nearly cacophonous syncopations of drummer Tyshawn Sorey provide the edginess that shows that Iyer’s compositions are indeed moving jazz in a new direction.
by D. K. Row
“Will all versions of history please report to the information desk.” // That’s not one of the new security announcements you’ll hear in airports during the John Ashcroft era. But as part of “In What Language?,” a multimedia collaboration led by pianist/composer Vijay Iyer and poet Mike Ladd, the command had an appropriate resonance. // Monday’s 70-minute performance at the Scottish Rite Center was part of the ongoing Time-Based Art Festival. Billed as “a song cycle of lives in transit,” it presented a variety of perspectives on travel and the resultant jostling of personalities and cultures, using the airport as a kind of all-purpose poetic prism. In doing so, it reminded viewers that the messages of history, too, always are in transit, always headed in many directions at once — and always in danger of being delayed or detained at the gate. // The performance was multi-layered. At the front of the stage, Ladd, the librettist, and three other performers recited poetry by Ladd and other poets from such nations as India, Yemen and Trinidad. Behind them, Iyer led a superb jazz sextet that provided atmospheric and dramatic musical backdrops to the flow of words. Video imagery on a screen across the back of the stage played off theme, setting, mood and rhythm in the words. // The density of content often left too little room for Iyer’s thrilling piano playing to shine through. But the lanky Rizwan Mirza was a standout up front, dancing illustratively as he delivered a Muslim New York cabbie’s view in “TLC,” or expressing the indignation and fear of being under the thumb of globalism and militarism in “Iraqi Businessman.” // Episodic and diffuse by its nature, the work may demand more audience effort. But whoever said the information desk was going to sort it all out for us?
by Steve Greenlee
Listed among “the weekend’s finest moments” is “The Vijay Iyer Quartet’s deconstruction project. The pianist’s group was this year’s nod to the new avant-garde, and it was a raucous affair. Iyer has a load of difficult original material to work with, but the group’s smashed chords and polyrhythms did ugly-beautiful things to ‘Body and Soul’ (reworked as ‘Habeas Corpus’) and the Jimi Hendrix hit ‘Hey Joe’ (which became ‘Because of Guns’).”
by Denis Armstrong
by Paula Fayerman
Fast Forward Weekly
by Nate Chinen
“For Iyer, the cycle’s composer, and Ladd, its librettist, that language is fluid and multivalent, in a perpetual state of becoming. Comprised of 18 vignettes, “In What Language?” approaches its subject from nearly as many different perspectives. Ladd’s verse assumes the narrative voices of immigrants, expatriates and transients. Iyer’s music, scored for as many as nine musicians, similarly sounds a chord of displacement, with its insistent odd meters and melting-pot assemblage of sounds… As in the best of the hip-hop-inflected spoken-word genre, rhythm underscores meaning; “flow” is a mode of performance at once literary, visual and musical, and it serves as a tonal accompaniment to the subject matter at hand… Music, language and image are virtually inseparable throughout the 90-minute piece, and Iyer and Ladd deserve particular praise for an obviously painstaking yet effortless-seeming marriage of sound and word… Ladd’s verse matches Iyer’s music in a manner so natural as to be unassuming… Everything fits, puzzle-piece tight… If the modern airport serves a dehumanizing purpose, “In What Language?” animates the all-too-human struggle.”
by Hua Hsu
The Village Voice
by Gary Giddins
The pianist-composer, leading his quartet this week, has quickly established himself as one of the most original and accomplished young pianists in years. His pieces are bright and handsomely voiced, and the group is more than just tight. It’s a unit that avoids head-and-solos routines, integrating the ensemble almost to the point of doing away with soloist-accompaniment episodes; the improvisations emerge organically, at once free and orderly, and Iyer’s percussive yet supple keyboard touch is something to marvel at.
by Derk Richardson
Since moving to New York from the Bay Area, pianist Vijay Iyer has established himself as a crucial new voice in a stream of jazz that flows from Ellington and Monk through Cecil Taylor, Horace Tapscott, Roscoe Mitchell and Steve Coleman.
by Robin D. G. Kelley
Vijay Iyer is the pianist/composer to watch in our century. His harmonic and melodic ideas are fresh and imaginative, and in his writing and improvising he treats the piano and all tonal instruments as if they are extensions of the drum, which may explain why his music always generates so much excitement. A rising creative giant, to say the least.
by Simon Rentner
by Forrest Bryant
All About Jazz
Their interplay was extraordinary, a tightly wound double-helix of sound… The pair traded solos continuously, each engaging in dense, polyrhythmic exploration before dropping back to repetitive chordal patterns, thus giving the other space to respond… Iyer mined the rich fields between jazz and classical music. At times, he sounded like a modernized Erik Satie, moody and spiraling. His hands walked, ran, and leapt over the keys like twin spiders, spinning dizzying webs of notes into complex rhythmic spaces… Mahanthappa stood bolt upright, a lightning rod offering minimal resistance to the electric flow of his ideas. His free blasts were aggressive but rounded, allowing no sharp edges to distract the audience from his insistent message. Coltranesque sheets of sound gave way to churning postbop riffs, then wove around Iyer in a careful pas de deux…
by Bill Shoemaker
They effortlessly traverse traditions, their materials repeatedly coiling with the tensions of Indian scales and unraveling with forward rhythmic motion. In this regard, Mahanthappa’s frequent employment of a shenai-like timbre is crucial, as it alternately gives their piquant melodies earthy and modernistic edges. Iyer’s penchant for nuance in attack and harmony also contributes to the precision shading of the music; yet more importantly, Iyer’s daring flourishes seep out of the background to propel the music into new directions… Iyer and Mahanthappa create compelling music.
by Gary Giddins
Vijay Iyer opened his Jazz Standard set with an elbow to the bass clef, followed by a dark drone balancing a light single-note tune and belling treble chords, sustaining a rhythmic pulse without giving into foursquare swing… He is a stirring player … who compels attention with long, confident phrases that race around the keyboard and avoid the usual stops.
by Simon Rentner
Piano phenom Vijay Iyer is arguably the hottest jazz artist in New York’s demanding downtown circuit… Iyer funnels influences from every continent into an organic and sophisticated blast of jazz expressionism.
by David Adler
Vijay Iyer’s turn in the Jazz Gallery Composers Series spotlight featured his quartet, with altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Stephan Crump, and a young hurricane of a drummer named Tyshawn Sorey. This was the premiere of the pianist’s “Blood Sutra” suite: 12 compositions in all, some brand new, some refurbished for this new context, all in one way or another dealing with blood (as bodily substance, as metaphor, as poetic/religious/political trope, and so forth). The first set began with an unaccompanied prologue, took off into the nasty polyrhythmic attack of “Cardio,” and ultimately wound down with a reading of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.” The song’s slow pulse, original chord changes, and chromatic ending were left intact, but Iyer played way outside over it all; Sorey, too, saw in the lingering bars of E major an opportunity to go nuts and leap bravely over rhythmic cliffs. Then Iyer and Mahanthappa pushed it over the top with an extraordinary unison line. In the program the song appeared as “Hey Joe/Because of Guns” — apparently this second title is simply the unison line itself, Iyer’s brilliant variation on a theme. The quartet was even more powerful during the second set, beginning with the haunting 9/11 meditation “Proximity (Crossroads),” culminating in “Imagined Nations” (about “the movement from blood ties to bloodshed”), and closing with the tranquil “Desiring (One Thousand Days).”
A brainy thematic production like “Blood Sutra” is risky in the best way, and the fact that Iyer can take such risks and still connect to a diverse audience is remarkable. He’s able to unite sources of inspiration from a wide range of disciplines and cultures into a seamless, convincing whole. Even people quite new to his difficult music can feel its honesty and power.
by Jeff Jackson
“PANOPTIC MODES IS ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING ALBUMS IN RECENT YEARS, marking the emergence of an important new voice in jazz… With the artistic triumph of this album, Vijay Iyer proves that he’s not just someone to watch. He’s arrived, fully formed and ready to step out and take center stage.”
by Hua Hsu
South Asian pianist lyer delivers his satisfying third disc of virtuoso playing, angular melodies and views from the diasporic hinterland. Thoughtfully arranged and bearing the conjoined weights of history and memory, Iyer’s work is a beautiful testament to music’s ability for bridging cultures and borders.
by Ted Panken
#1: Panoptic Modes. On this excellent album, Iyer’s third, his quartet executes with authority a challenging succession of Iyer compositions. These pieces are marked by declarative melodies, highbrow jazz harmony, and surging vamps and ostinatos drawn from the intricate rhythmic cycles of South India and West Africa. For all their intensity, they radiate a stately and almost archetypal narrative grandeur.
by Guillaume Bregeras
Vijay Iyer est un nom ‘vocateur pour les fans de Steve Coleman, Henry Threadgill, et Andrew Hill. Pourtant, ce pianiste, aujourd’hui install’ ‘ New York, a ‘labor’ un univers musical personnel at identifiable. Dans sa d’marche et sa vision du monde qu’il d’voile th’me apr’s th’me, Vijay Iyer ne cherche ‘ masquer ni ses influences (Monk, Coleman), ni ses origines, ni ses opinions. Numbers r’agit ainsi ‘ l’injustice qui touche le condamn’ ‘ mort Mumia Abu-Jamal. La puissance de la forme au service du discours. Dans un premier temps, on se r’gale des interventions du saxophoniste Rudresh Mahanthappa, et de la stimulante rythmique propos’e par le batteur Derrek Phillips et le contrebassiste Stephan Crump. Pour, peu ‘ peu, d’couvrir les autres grilles d”coute, les “modes panoptiques.”
by John Chacona
Iyer and his quartet… have unleashed a group conception that is bitingly incisive and bursting with coiled energy… Phillips pushes these rhythms with ease and power… Crump is rock-steady and sure of foot… Mahanthappa plays with a furious intensity… The leader is right with him, uncorking lines of sinuous complexity and utter logic… No one on the planet plays like this; Iyer has presented something quite new and exceptionally forthright… This is quite simply a terrific CD.
by Nate Dorward
Iyer’s music has a passionate severity that owes much to the darker reaches of the jazz keyboard literature’Bud Powell and Andrew Hill, especially’though the more genial figure of Thelonious Monk has also left a mark on it. Another important strand in his work is the influence of Indian music. There are some specific borrowings here from Vedic chant and “South Indian techniques of rhythmic progression”… More generally its influence is evident in the music’s rhythmic sophistication and in the dancing grace of Iyer’s right hand lines… Panoptic Modes is brimful of music, and though the opening “Invocation” … is quite unsurpassably fiery, the rest of the album keeps things at a similar pitch and pace… succeeding in keeping the interest level high. When Iyer finally lets the pace drop on the last track, the free-tempo ballad “Mountains,” it performs a very satisfying resolution of the album’s energies… it indeed conveys a sense of wonder, grandeur and nobility. A strong, fresh album that marks both Iyer and Mathanthappa as names to watch.
by Bruce Lee Gallanter
This is former bay area pianist Vijay’s third extraordinary release… From reading his inspired liner notes, One get the feeling that (his) music making is an endless journey of exploration on many levels… Vijay does a fine job of writing tunes which move in mysterious ways and connect in unexpected places… Vijay obviously knows his jazz history, as each piece explores the diffeerent ways that tunes unfold and evolve… All in all, quite an amazing endeavor and one that seems to fly out the door of DMG every time we play it for that adventurous listener.
by Frank Rubolino
“Iyer is a resonating, percussive player with a bold, voluminous style encompassing the full range of the keyboard… his sound is potent and muscular in the Tyneresque tradition. Mahanthappa comes out smoking at every opportunity… The quartet produces music that is solemn and serious. It lurks in dark corners and has a hard-hitting presence. Iyer thrives on the brooding overtones and dominates the proceedings with crushing waves of sound. It is hardy music.”
by Aaron Shuman
San Francisco Weekly
“rich, surprising, and highly nuanced… the songs jump out with a well-drilled urgency…Panoptic Modes is the sign of Iyer and his combo growing into their own inexhaustible power.”
by Derk Richardson
San Francisco Bay Guardian
by Steve Futterman
The New Yorker, January 14, 2002
Iyer is an extravagantly gifted new-jazz pianist and a quick-witted composer, but his greatest strength is his skill as a bandleader. On this captivating quartet recording, he establishes a lock-tight rapport with his energetic rhythm section and a cognitive interaction with the alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, another talent to keep a steady eye on.
by Howard Reich
Los Angeles Times, Dec 30, 2001
“…a music so rhythmically gripping and harmonically provocative that one hardly can wait to hear what outlandish idea these players will hit upon next… ‘Panoptic Modes’ offers a sensuousness of sound and vividness of performances that will seduce even the casual listener.”
by Gary Giddins
“A gifted pianist with his own distinctive nail-hammering attack, Iyer makes an equally strong impression in the way he regroups his quartet, micromanaging each piece with ostinatos and unison phrasing, especially in tandem with the sanguine saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, all of which says nothing about how open and entertaining the music is.”
by Joel Roberts
by W. Kim Heron
Detroit Metro Times
by David Adler
All Music Guide
by Derk Richardson
San Francisco Bay Guardian
by Blaine Fallis
by Gary Giddins
April 11, 2001
by Jeff Jackson
by Julia Sommer
April 15, 1998
by Lisa Tsering
by Reese Erlich
Jazz Perspectives @ The Mercury News
by Oliver Wang
by Dave Kaufman
Perfect Sound Forever