Pianist Vijay Iyer leads a quartet on his third outing, featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Stephan Crump on bass, and Derrek Phillips on drums. Iyer's two previous releases were attempts to integrate the avant-garde, South Asian, and M-Base concepts that shaped him as a player and composer. On Panoptic Modes, Iyer continues to do this, but manages to arrive at the next level in terms of artistic focus and vision. With this new quartet music (three tracks are trio pieces), he continues to eschew the rhythmically obvious at all costs. His harmonic and formal concepts are as challenging as ever, yet his exceedingly difficult writing is rendered oddly accessible by the unperturbed facility of his band. Highlights include the brisk, rolling rhythms and animated piano/drum conversation heard on "Configurations"; the highly angular juxtaposition of melody and bassline on "Atlantean Tropes"; the dark, suggestive world of the anti-death penalty ballad "Numbers," which lasts not even two minutes; and the stirring quartet remake of "Trident" (a far slower trio version appeared on Iyer's 1998 record, Architextures). Highly recommended.
Panoptic Modes Review
by David R. Adler