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Vijay Iyer: Compassion

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Vijay Iyer: Compassion
Vijay Iyer's Compassion should ratify his position alongside Brad Mehldau and Fred Hersch in the pantheon of contemporary jazz pianists/composers. That is, if previous, comparably stellar titles such as Historicity (Act Music, 2009) haven't already elevated his position accordingly. Once again in the company of bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, the visionary musician leads an ensemble that formulates an exquisite redefinition of jazz's well-established instrumental concept of the piano trio.

Having released twenty albums (and eight for ECM) at this point, across a remarkably diverse span of style, Iyer may be returning to his forte with the patiently-rendered interpretation of this title song. An original that resides quite comfortably next to the rollicking likes of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed," (a tribute to the late Chick Corea who also covered it), its elegance and empathy render it of a piece with the medley of the John Stubblefield / Geri Allen compositions "Free Spirits" / "Drummer's Song."

At 7:14 the second longest track of the dozen here, it's hard not to hear that composite of two numbers as a dual tribute to Iyer's accompanists. After all, the nimble threesome spends just slightly more than two and a half-minutes on Roscoe Mitchell's "Nonaah," albeit in a flurry of near-frenzied interaction that is at once literal and figurative homage.

Even in those moments of relative abandon, however, Iyer, Oh and Sorey are musicians who abide by the premise of "the less said the better." As a result, the deceptively skeletal "Arch"—an ode to South African activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu—is an exercise in shared self-restraint; on this cut, it's as if the three are playing the counterpoints of the melodic and rhythmic motifs in the song's structure. A reminder of the chemistry first documented on the ironically-named Uneasy (ECM, 2021), their collective instincts are fully in sync there and on "Ghostrumental," among others. Each musician moves unimpeded, liberated by the others' motion., so much so that the sense of mutual inspiration permeating this roughly hour duration aligns with empathetic overtones within the record's title.

Jagged and angular as is much of the fittingly-titled "Maelstrom"—especially Sorey's non-stop movement around his kit—there's an atmosphere of liberating joy arising from it. Little wonder that it concludes on a gentle note, especially as it's followed with the comparably delicate early goings of "Prelude: Orison."

And especially on "Panegyric." Iyer's deft note placement frames the equally precise playing of Oh. A tacit reminder that nowhere here do she or her comrades merely mark time, the gentle but firm notes she draws from her instrument resonate through the clarity of engineer Ryan Streber's recording and the co-production by Iyer and label founder Manfred Eicher.

The pair's simpatico, like that of the aforementioned technical participant, is an accurate reflection of that shared by the musicians who so effortlessly bond during Compassion.

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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