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Vijay Iyer: Architextures

Robert Spencer By

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Vijay Iyer is "one of the most fascinating jazz pianists around," says Berkeley's East Bay Express, and I couldn't have said it better myself. It is getting ever more difficult to hear someone with something really new to say, but Architextures should establish Vijay Iyer as a pianist to be reckoned with. He credits Duke, Monk and Cecil Taylor as influences, but there are other, more arcane echoes, especially in the solo "Prelude" and "Postlude: Prayer" - notably Olivier Messiaen, whether by coincidence or real contact, I don't know. Anyway, influences are really moot here, because Mr. Iyer has an individual style that more than transcends any resonance of past masters.

There are six tracks by an octet consisting of Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto, Aaron Stewart on tenor, Eric Crystal on tenor and soprano, Liberty Ellman on guitar, Jeff Brock and Kevin Ellington Mingus (yes, his grandson) on basses, and Brad Hargreaves on drums. Iyer performs the other tracks with a trio including Brock and Hargreaves. "Meeting-of-Rivers" is a fascinating octet piece that justifies the disc's title by itself: the octet's big sound plays with dissonance, with and against the piano, edging in and out of conventional tonality and featuring superbly inventive solos from Stewart, Crystal, and Mahanthappa. Iyer turns in an absorbing and confounding solo with much more of a jazz feel than appeared in most of his 'comping. Don't miss this one, folks.

"Microchips and Bullock Carts," a trio number, follows, characterized by intriguing stops and starts that make for a somewhat ominous feel. "Charms" is the other side of the coin; justifying its title, a sunny number that still contains plenty of Iyer's intoxicating scalar and chordal work.

"Sadhu" is another vertiginous octet workout, a trifle reminiscent of psychedelic jazz of the early Seventies, with a horn ostinato and solos that would fit fine on a Pharoah Sanders-Alice Coltrane album. Yet here again the piano is something else. Just when you thought the sound couldn't get more Eastern comes "Three Peas." The reeds' unison work and dynamic control is first-rate. The solos are again a bit Pharoanic, but not without effectiveness or charm.

The rest of the disc amply justifies the title - carefully and uniquely constructed music of a wide variety of textures: not just solo, trio, and octet, but East and West, Indian music and jazz, inside and outside, and no doubt more. Vijay Iyer clearly has an immense musical talent. Architextures amply rewards repeated listens and has made me, for one, make a note to look out for the man's next disc and even greater things to come.

Track Listing: Prelude: Paradise Lost, Meeting-of-Rivers, Microchips and Bullock Carts, Charms, Sadhu, Three Peas, Trident, Taste the Sea, Los Ojos, Utopia of the Tired Man, Journey Over Sands, Postlude: Prayer

Personnel: Vijay Iyer (piano), Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone), Aaron Stewart (tenor saxophone), Eric Crystal (soprano and tenor saxophone), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Kevin Ellington Mingus (bass), Jeff Brock (bass), and Brad Hargreaves (d)

Title: Architextures | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Asian Improv Records

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