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Vijay Iyer: Compassion

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Vijay Iyer: Compassion
The term "Supergroup" is often over-used. It usually refers to a group whose members are already successful as solo artists. In rock music, it often referred to members of a successful rock group who got together for a recording, frequently disbanding later. Fortunately, Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh and Tyshawn Sorey are going from strength to strength, showing no sign of disbanding and wholly justifying the term Supergroup. Compassion is their second album as a trio, following 2021's Uneasy (ECM Records).

Iyer, a Tamil-descended American pianist is a prolific artist. His projects have included working with the rhythmic traditions of South Asia and West Africa, big-band, post-bop, multi-media and classical. GRAMMY award-winning Oh is a bassist with numerous releases as a leader. She has worked with artists such as Terri Lyne Carrington, Pat Metheny and Kenny Barron. She was also the model for the character "Miho" in the Pixar movie Soul. Sorey, one of the most revered drummers around, has released several albums both as leader and collaborator. He works in fields as diverse as film scores, concertos and live-streamed improvisations.

There are three covers amongst the 12 compositions. Most immediate is a gleaming version of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed." Iyer's piano flows with joyous melody and clever improvisation over Oh's lyrical bass solo and Sorey's bustling drums. It is also a celebratory homage to Chick Corea. The track came about following a loan to Iyer of the piano Corea used during his final live stream which featured the song. There is a version of "Noonah," written by Iyer's key mentor, the avant-garde saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell. "Free Spirits / Drummer's Song" blends compositions by John Stubblefield and Geri Allen and builds an exuberant and effervescent groove.

"Maelstrom," "Tempest" and "Panegyric" were composed as part of a project dedicated to pandemic victims. "Maelstrom" just manages to be the stand-out track of the three with its piano motif, repeating left-hand pulses and improvisation which explores over resounding bass lines and thrashing cymbals, all building a sense of tension and unease.

"Where I Am," "Ghostrumental" and "It Goes" were composed for Ghosts Everywhere I Go. This ensemble project drew inspiration from the writings of poet Eve L. Ewing. The gentle solo piano piece, "It Goes," imagines murdered teenager Emmett Till as still being alive today. "Where I Am" features a melodic bass section and quivering drums as it builds suspense before releasing. "Arch," dedicated to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is notable for a repeating piano theme that becomes an urgent improvisation with a halting yet rhythmic delivery, an expressive bass-led section and constantly exploring drums.

Iyer's playing and compositions are first-rate, Oh and Sorey add their prodigious talents making this an extraordinary trio who play with an expressive energy. Should a listener have a preference for piano trios to work from a free and improvisational base, or prefer a more melodic approach, they will find both viewpoints catered for here. An invigorating and immersive experience throughout.

Track Listing

Compassion; Arch; Overjoyed; Maelstrom; Prelude: Orison; Tempest; Panegyric; Nonaah; Where I Am; Ghostrumental; It Goes; Free Spirits / Drummer’s Song.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Compassion | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: ECM Records


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