The selection of which avenue to follow in music is the whole ball game to sustain the integrity of a particular venture. On Fieldwork's Door, the measure of the music's success has to do with the recognition that it centers within a specific tonal range. The alto sax, played by Steve Lehman, establishes that range. There are no extremes reached here. Mixes of pointillistic textures abound; the flow of any melody is broken up by the rockiness beneath the sonic path.
How each instrument interlocks with the other supplies the music's dynamic and coherence. Even though drummer Tyshawn Sorey composed the major number of pieces, pianist Vijay Iyer is givenand takesa huge lead in managing the tempos and the ground the group will cover on tunes including "Of." Iyer demonstrates in every piece that his movement around the keyboard is diversified, yet he breaks out of some of the expectations that could be brought to his playing. Surely, his signature methods of climbing up and down the keyboard, in chords and arpeggiations, are prevalent (his own "Ghost Time" and Sorey's "Bend"); but so are his abilities to spread out in dissonance, scattered phrasing, single-fingered hammering and trills (his own "Less" and "Balanced"). His breaking out of his own improvisational predictability marks his effort to release himself, still within his already established brilliance and acumen.
Sorey elaborates consistently on how the piano is working, and the two together are like different phases of one instrument. His compositions are direct and open. He is not prone to rousing explosiveness; rather, to charting a percussive course through artfully whacking the tom or striking the cymbals. Because of his dedicated partnership with the piano, the language he uses shadows the piano's phrasing ("Ghost Time," his own "Pivot Point Redux") or emphasizes and redirects the colors the piano and the alto are painting ("Bend").
Altoist Lehman is responsible for creating the tones that the piano and the drums cannot reach, but not so much out of range that it leaves the territory the band occupies. Lehman offers a gentle extension of the piano's chord structures (Sorey's "Cycle I") in pitch and timing. Lehman also confines himself to a narrow channel, tightening up with arpeggios ("Of" and "Pivot Point"); opening up and falling into the cracks that the piano presents (his own "After Meaning" and "Rai"); or establishing a line that anchors the fervency of the piano, in exchange for initializing the line that the piano follows chordally ("Ghost Time").
It is important, in appreciating recordings of improvised music, to give the music time to seep in. Heaven only knows what the listener needs to do intellectually and emotionally to allow this to happen. But like putting a challenging puzzle together, the parts are meant to fit. And most often, after a while, they do.
Personnel: Vijay Iyer: piano; Steve Lehman: alto sax; Tyshwan Sorey: drums.