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Vijay Iyer's trio album, Historicity (ACT, 2009), brought the pianist much critical acclaim and saw him awarded the 2010 Jazz Journalist Association Musician Of The Year. Solo finds Iyer on his own for the first time, on a collection that encompasses jazz standards, a contemporary pop classic and five of Iyer's own original compositions. It's a more thoughtful and reflective album than Historicity but, while it clearly demonstrates Iyer's technical ability on his chosen instrument, it is also a less consistent work.
Iyer's disparate choice of material from other writers is fascinating: his re-workings are original and, at times, rather surprising. His introduction to Steve Porcaro and John Bettis' "Human Nature"the song made famous by Michael Jackson
, that Iyer began playing as a tribute to Jackson, following the singer's death in 2009is a beautiful and delicate piece of music that gradually moves closer and closer to the tune's melody. Iyer takes a similar approach to the opening of Thelonious Monk
's "Epistrophy," only in a more fractured and percussive style. The first clear hint of the original tune is brief, barely five or six notes, before Iyer drifts away from it once more. After that, he weaves his playing in and around the melody, offering short glimpses before veering away in exploration.
Next, Iyer takes Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie Delange's "Darn That Dream" and, for much of the time, makes it sound like it, too, was written by Monk. There are touches of Monk in his interpretation of Duke Ellington
's "Black and Tan Fantasy" as well. Curiously, Iyer ends this track with a few bars of Frederic Chopin's "Funeral March." Whether this was planned or improvised, it is oddly incongruous, and breaks down the lovely sense of nostalgia that Iyer has created up to that point.
While Iyer's interpretations of other composers' works are innovative and intriguing, his own compositions are less successful. "Autoscopy" in particular is rather melodramatic in places and, despite offering a clear demonstration of Iyer's ability as a player, it lacks focus. "One For Blount," Iyer's Sun Ra
tribute, is more successful; there is technical ability here, but it's melded with humor and imagination in an upbeat and rather joyful tune. "One For Blount" is the perfect number to follow Iyer's beautiful interpretation of Ellington's "Fleurette Africaine," a lovely, sparse, reading that combines technical ability, and an understanding of the music's emotion, to create the finest tune on Solo.
Track Listing: Human Nature; Epistrophy; Darn That Dream; Black and Tan Fantasy; Prelude: Heartpiece; Autoscopy; Patterns; Desiring; Games; Fleurette Africaine; One For Blount.