Blood Sutra

Vijay Iyer

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Blood Sutra Review

by Don Snowden

Calling Blood Sutra another Vijay Iyer disc could be damning with faint praise or maybe noting a first few signs of stagnation, but it just reflects the singular nature of the young pianist-composer's musical conception in this case. Like Jason Moran, it's hard to find signposts or reference points in his music beyond the sorta/kinda/a-little-bit-like level and nothing on his fourth disc will dissuade those who rank him on the very short list of creative, individual young stylists in jazz. The meditative, mostly solo piano "Proximity (Crossroads)" blends into "Brute Facts," where new drummer Tyshawn Sorey introduces the most noticeable sonic shift in active, chop-funk rhythms somewhere near Steve Coleman's M-Base foundation. Iyer's alto sax alter ego Rudresh Mahanthappa takes a dynamics-down solo hand-off for his tart-toned feature after Iyer's extended solo before the music slips into "Habeas Corpus" without drawing more attention than a subtle change to a stabbing, more classically defined melody. That flow is characteristic of Blood Sutra. The music is excerpted from a more extensive suite, and there is next to no sense of breaks between pieces as the music moves seamlessly from mood to mood. Iyer returns to the solo piano snippet bridge technique with the ruminative "Ascent" and abstract "That Much Music," dedicated to Roscoe Mitchell, which visits Cecil Taylor territory of atonal clusters and star twinkle arpeggios. The spare "When History Sleeps" begins portentous before Mahanthappa cools it out as Stephan Crump's bass coming to the fore and a muted Sorey focuses on mallets and cymbals. One finger dissonances recalling Thelonious Monk creep in on "Questions of Agency," which gets more thorny and knotty behind Mahanthappa's solo in a way that suggests Ornette Coleman. "Kinship" really brings out a Monk connection as the group shifts to a more classic jazz quartet sound, while "Imagined Nations" opens with Crump's strummed bass and tilts more towards M-Base vein. "Because of Guns (Hey Joe Redux)" looks like a nod to Bad Plus (it probably has more to do with Iyer's Burnt Sugar connection) and often hits a pretty deep blues mojo with the riff locked down and piano and alto playing intriguing unison variations on the melody line. But ultimately it's sporadic or hang together that well -- Mahanthappa doesn't sound as comfortable in this context and Sorey never meshes with a straight rock backbeat. Even with that slight tailing-off, Blood Sutra only adds more luster to Iyer's presence on the short list of forward-looking jazz creators these days. His muse still tends towards the severe but there's no denying the individuality and the fact he doesn't make the listening easy is also precisely what makes it so rewarding.

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