Vijay Iyer Trio, Accelerando

Some recordings, the best kinds, are ones that you don’t review so much as you discuss the musician, because who they are and what they do is what matters, the discs themselves (as polished as they may be) seem like organized viewpoints into a continual stream of creative and developing ideas. The duration, number of tacks, sequencing, the package, all could be merely accidental. And as good as that product may be, there’s always the sensation that the recording is an inadequate picture of the real musical accomplishment, and even the sense that it’s slightly dated, that enough tie has past since the studio sessions that the playing has moved on from there.
That’s the feeling I get from Vijay Iyer’s great new trio CD, Accelerando, a dip into the stream of the pianist’s musical values and imagination. This stream just happens to be wide enough that you can’t see across, swift enough that you’d want to think several times before putting a foot in, and hides as yet unplumbed depths. Accelerando continues the series of excellent releases on the ACT label — Historicity, his fascinating solo record, last year’s surprising and satisfying Tirtha with the amazing guitarist Prasanna —  discs that are both high quality and waypoints along that stream.

Iyer, still relatively young, has a substantial career underway. His early discs, with their explosive power, intensity and bitingly smart politics, alone make him one of the most important contemporary jazz musicians, but his constant musical development just adds to that. He is of the moment in jazz in the best way, working his way towards an eternal future point that incorporates the music that has gone before and that yet to be imagined. This is so vital to jazz, so much of which tends to drown itself in its own past. An improvising art that has one foot in art music and one in pop music must necessarily be creatively restless in each.

And so, this disc, with a group that Iyer is clearly increasingly, intuitively comfortable with. Historicity, as good as it is, sounds in retrospect like a group figuring out what it can do together. Now, it seems they can do anything. The playing is increasingly flowing and intuitive, the natural result of time spent working together. There’s a strong feeling, like on the arrangement of “Human Nature,” that the group interplay and improvisations are new and renewed each time they play a tune, and that what’s on the disc just happens to be that one moment — go catch a gig, and that solo break will turn out to be completely different.

Through the years, Iyer has gone from emphasizing raw power and darkly obsessive ostinatos to richly complex playing that has a foundation of rhythmic complexity, uses more internal voices and more nuanced harmonies, and continues to develop greater lyricism and wit. There’s no less excitement, though, just catch the burgeoning drive of “Optimism.” His taste and vision seem to be expanding along with his style, and he values how he can make jazz new in the contemporary moment. His pianism builds on great avatars of creative playing Herbie Nichols and Duke Ellington, and he does amazingly intense things with the completely unexpected choice of the Heatwave song, “The Star of a Story,” and turns into Flying Lotus’ “mmmhmm” into an old-fashioned sounding delicacy. At the core of his musical thinking is his arrangement of Henry Threadgill’s “Little Pocket Size Demons,” from the Too Much Sugar for a Dime album. Putting so much of the music onto the piano, and keeping it in the middle range, clouds Threadgill’s lean profile, but the playing is so exciting, and the group captures Threadgill’s uncanny way with a beat. It’s also an important statement of what is important in jazz right now, who brought the music to where it is, what it can do, and where it can go. Accelerando is a must for anyone interested in this point in the musical moment, and is guaranteed to be one of the best jazz recordings of 2012.


Author: gtra1n

I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.