Fieldwork: Simulated Progress (2005)
Has anyone out there ever been totally flattened by a record from the first notes?
It happens that Pi Recordings was present at a Rudresh Mahanthappa show last week, and I was able to pick up a copy of Fieldworks' Simulated Progress, which I listened to on the way home. "Flattened" is definitely the word, and I felt chagrined that I could not get to the group's show (with a new drummer, Tyshawn Sorey) the next night. "Headlong" comes thrashing and snarling right out of the gate and sets the tone for the rest of the record. The music is dark and dense, almost brutal, and to listen to it is to be willingly (and perhaps joyously) flattened.
In Part 2 of Paul Olson's interview with Iyer, he discusses Fieldwork in general and Simulated Progress in specific. Much is made of the collaborative nature of the band, but a group of players working towards a singular sound is not really a new thing. Each member contributes compositions (one cannot call them tunes), but this is still Iyer's band. Each track expresses very much the same aesthetic, and the sound of the album as a whole is not the sum of differing parts, but that each track is a different take of the group's evolution, which I see as Iyer's evolution, to this point in time.
Fieldwork's first album, Your Life Flashes, with Aaron Stewart on sax instead of Steve Lehman, sounds quite different. Lehman, who is new to me, sounds very much at times like Mahanthappa does in Iyer's own band. Why this is I cannot say, and it is not meant to be a knock on Lehman. In any case, Your Life Flashes is an altogether more "normal" sounding album for a bass-less trio.
Given its predecessor, saying that Simulated Progress demonstrates the evolution of Iyer's vision of how a piano, sax, and drums trio can sound simply will not prepare any listener for what comes out of the speakers. Iyer comes across as a very intense and deep thinking individual and musician. The record has an aura of calculation mixed with extreme emotion. Iyer's left hand plays more than just bass lines, also chords and clusters that are supported by Kavee's kick drum to produce an almost bass-like sound. Kavee is on fire for most of the record, seemingly playing his whole kit while meshing with Iyer. Lehman's sax plays many roles, including supporting the bass line at times; on "Gaudi" he sounds like he is howling during a severe rainstorm.
Olson asks what is "Transgression," and all I can say is that Simulated Progress is very intense music that sounds like nothing else from Iyer, or anyone else for that matter, but which I found totally engrossing, and actually quite memorable, despite not knowing "what this music is."
(As an aside, the words "carnatic music" sometimes come up when Iyer or Mahanthappa is discussed, but I have not seen a definition. It is the classical music of Southern India and one of the world's oldest and richest musical traditions. The basic form is a monophonic song with improvised variations. There are 72 basic scales on the octave, and a rich variety of melodic motion. Both melodic and rhythmic structures are varied and compelling. For more information, visit www.carnatic.com.)
Track Listing: Headlong; Transgression; Trips; Telematic; Media Studies; Gaudi; Transitions; Peril; Reprise; Infogee Dub; Durations.
Personnel: Vijay Iyer: piano; Steve Lehman: alto and sopranino saxophone; Elliot Humberto Kavee: drums.