|Vijar Iyer, Stephan Crump, and Tyshawn Sorey at Miller Theater, Columbia University|
By Paul Acquaro
It's probably best to be forthright about this: while I have read all of the reviews of pianist Vijay Iyer's releases on the Free Jazz Blog, and enjoyed the profile on him in the New Yorker before his appearances at the opening of the Met Breuer, aside from the Trio 3 + Vijay Iyer recording Wiring (Intakt) from 2013, I really knew Iyer's music best by text. However, a chance to see him with bassist Stephan Crump and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey (both of whom I have had the pleasure to hear many times) at Miller Theater, Columbia University, was a great opportunity to rectify this. I approached with an open mind - armed with only the pile of descriptions - and left a satisfied customer.
The show was broken into two 40 minute sets (or so, I didn't actually keep track) and each one had its own personality. The first was an unbroken string of tunes, until the last song, where the band paused, Iyer bantered a bit, and launched into a final song (possibly a Radiohead tune?). Two other covers, or rather deconstructions, in this set were 'Work' by Thelonious Monk and 'Human Nature' from Michael Jackson. While I have it on good authority that the latter is a concert staple, what the trio does with it was fantastic. Distilling key musical events - like the well-known chorus - and using it as a bridge between solos and collective workouts, the original song became a touchstone in a maelstrom. It was ever a pleasure to hear Sorey kicking the shit out of his kit!
Overall the first set seemed to really mine Iyer's catalog, and the songs had the ECM 'sound' to them - atmosphere and spaciousness were the rule, but one which was often broken by the rapturous climaxes of interlocking layers powered by Iyer's elliptical arpeggiated bursts. Crump's crisp bass lines, which hung just behind Iyer's beat, gave the music additional oomph, as did Sorey's imaginative drumming.
The musical statements in the second set seemed to flow more continuously and the connection between the three musicians involved even deeper concentration. On one tune, a pastoral 'mid-western dreamscape' à la Pat Metheny, Crump was noticeably deep in thought, conjuring the bass by shaping the air around it. When he finally connected with the instrument, the song - which I had found a touch sleepy - suddenly burst apart is his hands as he played a solo that completely changed the group's direction. Sorey and Iyer responded in kind and the peak they reached was a tornado ripping though the musical landscape. That tune, along with Sorey's crescendoing solo on the penultimate tune, received enthusiastic applause from the already receptive and excited audience.
An excellent show, and one that has me scrambling to back-fill my collection!