You get the feeling that piansist Vijay Iyer is shifting into a period of transition with the opening track on his new CD, Blood Sutra. "Proximity (Crossroads)" is – uncharacteristicaly for Iyer – a slow tempo bit of introspection, with a swish of brush and stickwork painting washes behind the hard-edged piano notes. But the "Brute Facts" jolts out of the speakers next, in a full frontal assault, in very Iyer-esque fashion. Propulsive, urgent, jarring even, riding a relentless rhythmic momentum, forward, always forward with Iyer.
The pianist is becoming the new standard bearer of the percussive school of playing, and he has picked some very simpatico bandmates to help him push his musical vision out there. As on his ground-breaking Panoptic Modes (Red Giant, 2001), Rudesh Mahanthappa is back blowing alto sax; and his is a rather flat, low resonance tone that compliments Iyer's ringing aggressivness. Stephan Crump is here again, too, on bass, and his sound lends a bit of fluidity and looseness to the drive; while drummer Tysheen Sorey (new to me) asserts his timekeeping chops – no small feat when playing with Iyer.
An initial listen to Blood Sutra had me thinking "no new ground broken here" since Panoptic Modes and You Life Flashes (Pi Records, 2002) by Fieldwork, an Iyer trio vehicle. But a "sit down and concentrate on the sounds" session reveals nuances and subtle shadings creeping in. "A Question of Agency" is particularly interesting with its four way interplay; and "Because of Guns/ Hey Joe Redux" resurrects – in fittingly ominous fashion – the old blues tune, done probably most famously by Jimi Hendrix on his first album.
"Stigmatism" plays as I write this, and Stephan Crump's bass seems to be trying to push Iyer's sharp notes – that the piansist drives down like tent stakes – around, with mixed, but beautiful results. And now "This Much Music" brings Cecil Taylor to mind.
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