As the title track of Compassion gets conjured up on a rubato tumble of Tyshawn Sorey's cymbals, bassist Linda May Han Oh begins her work whichon all of Compassionis herculean. Vijay Iyer ushers in, and a quiet thing of beauty gets underway. It is one of the album's monster tracks. And eleven more tracks follow.
Much like the trio's 2021 ECM effort Uneasy, Compassion makes for a most intense and most satisfying listen. "Arch" is a vivid display of virtuosity and spirit as the three architects go about building bridges from here to now, like its namesake, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A power- packed revamping of Stevie Wonder's lazy hit "Overjoyed" cuts next. Shaken loose from its mid-eighties, middle-of-the-road moorings, Iyer, Oh and Sorey tear it up in a frenetic tug of war. Tensile and fierce, Iyervamping on a piano once literally and proudly owned by Chick Coreais most Corea-like, his leaps of faith and invention barely tempering his colleagues rhythmic thunder. The trio then doubles down and raises ten on "Maelstrom." A whirlwind follows.
Oh does a lot of heavy lifting on Compassion. A testament of emotion on "Prelude: Orision" leads to the fiery pursuit of "Tempest." A true statement to the synergy the three never take for granted, "Tempest" builds on a skittish, jumpy pulse over which Iyer's poppier-than-a-top-of-the-pops teen dance hit, fall. Across the track's exuberant expanse, Oh leans in, solidifying the connection between Iyer's overarching exclamations and Sorey's joyous dance.
Third in a trio of Iyer compositions written to memorialize those lost to the recent pandemic, "Panegyric" elaborates on the wide-screen imaginings of its predecessors, "Maelstrom" and "Tempest." Fully lucid, the trio interlock, (like humans should in times both good and bad) and carry the muse into the Roscoe Mitchell broken free jazz madness that is "Nonaah." With Sorey particularly engaged, "Where Am I, " rendered with magnificent poise and lithe determination, flows moodily exotic yet true to the core. The surging "Ghostrumental" finds the pianist again entertaining his inerrant Top 40 vibe as Oh and Sorey propulsively groove along. "It Goes" (Iyer bluesy, solo, romantic) and "Free Spirit /Drummer's Song" (the former title courtesy of Geri Allen) complete a coup d'état with lasting repercussions.
Compassion; Arch; Overjoyed; Maelstrom; Prelude: Orison; Tempest; Panegyric; Nonaah; Where I Am; Ghostrumental; It Goes; Free Spirits / Drummer’s Song.
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