Intrepid pianist and composer Vijay Iyer's Break Stuff is an intimate work brimming with an intense poetry and a subtly dramatic ambience. The latter results from the complementary and contrasting elements, which are intricately interwoven within each of the dozen tracks that comprise the album.
On the exquisite "Mystery Woman," for instance, Iyer plays percussive chords with one hand and haunting, lilting cascade of notes with the other building a sublime harmonic balance. The serene atmosphere that follows coalesces around bassist Stephan Crump's lyrical solo laced with mysticism. This balance of sound and silence leads to Iyer's sweeping improvisation that crashes over drummer Marcus Gilmore's rocking refrains and Crump's hypnotic reverberations.
Saxophonist John Coltrane's "Countdown" meanwhile showcases both Iyer's virtuosity and the superb and seamless camaraderie among the members of his long-standing trio. Iyer's agile and rapid-fire arpeggios open on an angular touch. Gilmore and Crump echo Iyer's edgy spontaneity as the group performance evolves with elegance and captivating patterns. Gilmore's reserved yet passionate polyrhythms usher in the conclusion.
Deceptive simplicity is one of the hallmarks of Iyer's originals on the record. The Baroque-esque "Chorale" for example is built around an unadorned melody. The ensemble's intriguing refrains grow more complex with each bar resulting in a sophisticated, contemplative and gripping piece that crystalizes around the linear and mellifluous theme.
Elsewhere the quietly undulating "Wrens," one of the three avian themed compositions, transforms into an expansive tune. Iyer's shimmering lines are interlaced with Crump's deeply resonant sonic undercurrent and Gilmore's propulsive beats. The solemn "Starlings" features Iyer's classically influenced pianism, Crump's primal, thumping bass and Gilmore's sparse cymbal splashes.
A similarly orgnaic mood permeates the splendid "Geese." Crump's con- arco phrases, with hints of delightful dissonance, evoke the calls of the title birds. The tense and passionate three-way conversation that emerges maintains an elegiac and somber tone while channeling a wise tranquility.
For their first recording together for the ECM label, Iyer and his band-mates create engaging and provocative music. Superlative camaraderie and individual instrumental prowess coexist in perfect equilibrium as do the cerebral and the emotive, the elemental and the arcane. The result is a singular and ingenious disc that engrosses and stimulates.
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