Despite distinctive individual approaches to composition and improvisation, jazz pianists Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn are kindred spirits. They are celebrated as innovators and stylists, are approximately the same age, and most importantly, share an important foundational experience playing in Roscoe Mitchell's Note Factory together in the early years of the century, recording the album Song for My Sister.
Transitory Poems documents a 2018 live concert at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. In his brief liner notes, Iyer states that they documented their performance in the aftermath of a 12-month period that saw the passing of pianists Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Geri Allen, and the cosmological abstract expressionist painter and sculptor Jack Whitten, whose work was deeply influenced by John Coltrane. The title of the album comes from an interview quote by Taylor. Opener "Life Line (Seven Tensions)" is a 13-minute exercise in flow that reveals without doubt that the two men are not merely "jamming," but spontaneously composing together. In varying shades of light and dark they interact with adroit single lines and contrapuntal chord voicings as they engage in everything from modern classical music to speculative moments of inquiring repose and angular boogie-woogie. "Sensorium," dedicated to Whitten, is a short, four-minute work that layers fleet counterpoint in abstraction in a manner that evokes the ghost trace of the artist whose signature method was the immediate yet systemic way he layered acrylic paint. "Kairos" downshifts, examining the sparsity of sound as it intersects with silence, with insertions of precise melodic interpolation that eventually claim the fore as tight rhythmic chords entwine in a dance that unfurls in narrative space. "S.H.A.R.D.S." begins similarly, but gradually engages jazz motivics and sharp rhythmic statements to unfurl in a whirlwind of four-handed playing alongside a bluesy Motorik pulse. The final three works are all dedications. "Clear Monolith" for Abrams is nearly 11 minutes and commences with sparse staccato statements in lower and upper registers simultaneously with minimal, bell-like responses on single keys. In the middle section, animated movement asserts chorded tonal inquiry balanced by crystalline space. "Luminous Brew" is dedicated to Taylor and emerges as if it has always been there. The deep register of the bass keys rumble ominously as open modal chords add dimensionality to their voice. Flitting moments of ragtime and Ellingtonia and are woven into the forceful yet elegant unfolding as chromatics and expanded harmonics create a mysterious homage. Closer "Meshwork/Libation/When Kabuya Dances," dedicated to Allen, asserts itself with articulate force and contrapuntal energy as stacked arpeggios meet precise bass notes and chords before erecting a galloping call and response that slowly evaporates as it introduces Allen's shimmering, tender, playful "When Kabuya Dances." Transitory Poems is a wonderful recording. The energy, ideas, and instinctive musicality of Iyer and Taborn is full of surprises, canny camaraderie, deft techniques, understatement, and symbiotic difference; they combine to add immeasurably to the all-too-slim catalog of duo albums in the jazz piano tradition.