Vijay Iyer's first solo album is structured in three movements, not unlike a recital. It begins with four interpretations -- the pop song "Human Nature," which was introduced into jazz by Miles Davis in 1985; Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy"; the standard "Darn That Dream"; and Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy." These are followed by four interlocking Iyer compositions, which are in turn succeeded by the album's third movement, a stretch that includes a version of Steve Coleman's (Iyer's former boss and mentor) "Games," another Ellington track ("Fleurette Africaine") and one final original: "One for Blount," a dedication to Sun Ra. The opening version of "Human Nature" dips into Bruce Hornsby territory in its final 90 seconds or so, and tosses in a few unnecessary fills, but otherwise it's nice enough. Iyer tackles "Epistrophy" with high-speed, Jarrett-esque streams of notes rather than the obvious, Monk-ish lurching rhythm and melodic sparseness; the melody is present, but it's buried, you've got to know it's there in advance and listen for it. "Darn That Dream" is pretty but undistinguished, while Iyer's version of "Black and Tan Fantasy" struts and strides convincingly, making the listener wish he'd approached the Monk tune in a similar fashion. The four-song suite of original material that comprises the album's middle stretch showcases other facets of Iyer's playing, including a passable Cecil Taylor impression on the rumbling "Prelude: Heartpiece" and "Autoscopy." The latter piece shifts to Philip Glass-like repetitive figures in its second half. The odds and ends that close the disc out don't resolve anything, though "Games" has a melody Iyer clearly enjoys playing; they just provide structure to the album as a whole. He can clearly make a piano do just about anything he wants it to, and Solo is a project that puts the thought that went into its construction clearly visible, but it's never breathtaking in the way a truly great solo piano performance can be.
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AllMusic Review by Phil Freeman