Vijay Iyer / Vijay Iyer Trio

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Accelerando Review

by Thom Jurek

It's almost impossible not to consider Accelerando by pianist Vijay Iyer's working trio with bassist Stephen Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore a companion to 2009's excellent Historicity. Its obvious similarities are that it places a handful of originals alongside a host of cover versions. These come from well-known artists from the worlds of jazz, 21st century dance music, and R&B. But there are key differences, too: for starters, this trio has been together longer; nowhere does that matter more than it does in jazz. The intuitive interplay and collective mindset that this trio possesses are exponentially more mature than they were on Historicity, despite its sharpness and musical acumen. The willingness to take chances is greater, as is the ability to make those risks pay off. Take the reading of "Human Nature," a tune recorded by Michael Jackson for the iconic Thriller. The melody is irresistible and Iyer maintains its framework while he builds on it by syncopating, extrapolating, and coloring it so that it becomes rich with complexity and textures, all the while keeping its melodic integrity. The rhythmic pulse is doubled on the snare, hi-hat, and bass drum. Crump's bass accompanies rather than propels, so his bass is where the groove lies. Heatwave's "The Star of a Story" is likewise melodically intact, but its rhythmic basics are set on a groove that finds funk in waltz time. Iyer discovers subtleties and hidden harmonic corners in his middle register that are remarkable to anyone familiar with the tune. "Mmmhmm," by Flying Lotus and singing bassist Thundercat, is realized with bowed basslines by Crump that both accompany the melody and state it, sparse chordal suggestions by Iyer in the higher register, and a gradually increasing vamp by Gilmore (that sounds like a defective loop because of its intentional slippage), all of which enchant the listener enough to provide Iyer the opportunity to solo using knotty clusters of post-bop dissonance and lyricism. Herbie Nichols' "Wildflower" swings hard with its lean angular line accenting his use of the piano as both a palette of tonal colors and a rhythm instrument. Iyer's own tunes, such as the title track and "Lude," reveal an extensive, purposeful build on jazz history from Thelonious Monk (in the latter) to the future (in the former), where dynamic repetition and gradually complex harmonic multiplications result from simple beginnings. What's most remarkable about these tunes, and the others here, are how consciously danceable they are. The set closes with Duke Ellington's "The Village of the Virgins," from his and Alvin Ailey's jazz ballet entitled The River. The river is obviously the Mississippi; gospel, blues, early jazz, swing, and even 1940s R&B make their voices heard in a nearly processional strut. The trio's interplay takes the structure -- originally performed by a jazz orchestra -- and boils it down to its essences, leaving space for nuance, grace, and elegance. Accelerando is a triumph in creativity and expert musicianship, and further underscores Iyer's status as a genuine jazz innovator.

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