Vijay Iyer

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Reimagining Review

by Thom Jurek

A decade into his recording career, pianist/composer/bandleader Vijay Iyer is still a startlingly original voice in jazz. His dense and often knotty harmonic conceptions and his modal approach to melodic invention are idiosyncratic yet wonderfully accessible to listeners; his rhythmic conceptions are unusual, yet always swing, and his improvisational facility as a soloist places him in a very small league of jazzmen. Reimagining is another exercise in complex compositions where the notion of song is brought to the fore. Accompanied by his longtime front-line alter ego, Rudresh Mahanthappa, on alto saxophone, bassist Stephan Crump, and drummer Marcus Gilmore, Iyer creates song forms from the place that is as far as East as from the West -- the magical and murky, imagined interzone, where the music of the Indo-Asian Diaspore meets the Western Jazz tradition. That is to say, these forms establish the next extension in both traditions. The beautiful loping "Song for Midwood" is a case in point. Where one can hear the influence of Jan Garbarek's assertion that space dictates the placement of melody, here, it is the situating of two minimal phrases in space that offers a new visible dimension for the lyric line to emerge from and return to. The nearly funky backbeat groove on "Immfogee's Cakewalk" offers the listener a foothold into an angular -- not dissonant -- sonic world where counterpoint, repetition, interlaced rhythmic assertions, and scalar invention all meld together into something that truly swings. And so it goes. Whether it's the chordal mode strata that opens onto the body of a tune so elegiac and sweet it is heartbreaking, as on "The Big Almost," or the seamless, nearly formless fragments that assert themselves into unified voices on "Composites," the effect is the same: here is a musician who is discovering as he goes, one who never gives in to notions of excess or mere vanguard speculation, but who moves purposefully into the process of discovery. And jazz is better for it. Reimagining is the sound of the mature Iyer, who is at once authoritative and inquisitive, finding and relating mystery as he uncovers it and, in the process, furthering the jazz tradition. Bravo.

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