There are any number of valid ways to describe Vijay Iyer's music over the course of his twenty-three albums. Analytical, angular, intricate, dissonant, and oddly lyrical; his two previous ECM releases, Break Stuff
(2015) and the duo outing, A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke
, with Wadada Leo Smith
(2016), have been more widely accessible without forsaking complexity. Not merely an academic, Iyer is a perpetual student, absorbing information and disseminating his aggregate knowledge in new and inventive ways. On Far From Over
, there is an overall level of energetic enthusiasm played out in funk, swing, hard bop, and the avant-garde, all with Iyer's idiosyncratic approach and often surprising in pure elation.
Bassist Stephan Crump
and the ubiquitous Tyshawn Sorey
are a regular rhythm section for Iyer; Sorey occasionally trading off with Iyer's other drummer of choice, Marcus Gilmore
. The sextet fills out with a stellar horn section; Graham Haynes
on cornet, flugelhorn and electronics, the eclectic alto saxophonist Steve Lehman
and Mark Shim on tenor saxophone add much of the punch on this album.
"Poles" opens with Iyer's delicately cascading notes before the horns explode and take over. The piece rises to a fevered pitch and then descends on Haynes beautifully rounded flugelhorn. Iyer takes a more active role on the title track where the horns again engage in thorny interplay, setting up a boisterous solo for piano. When Haynes, Lehman and Shim rejoin, the effect is dramatic. "Nope" is more abstract with short bursts of soloing in close proximity, making for an attention-grabbing interlocking of sounds that would be very much at home on a Lehman recording. The brief "End of the Tunnel" is electric, mysterious and a fine lead-in to "Down To The Wire" with Iyer's bewilderingly fast playing stitching together the late arriving horns and pulling up just short of a free-for-all. Far From Over
has its more reflective moments as well, "Wake" being other-worldly and "For Amiri Baraka" and "Threnody" affecting lamentations driven by Iyer's piano.
Despite the caliber of musicians on Far From Over
, this very much a group album, steeped in spontaneous improvisation. Iyer explains his methodology as looking to ..."build from the rhythm first, from the identity of the groove...." In doing so, there are often textural designs taking shape and dissolving at close intervals, making the listening experience something like watching an abstract painter work on canvas. The complexity of it all can make subsequent listening experiences seem to shift their emphasis. As always in Iyer's work, there is a lot going on and it's all intensely engaging.
Poles; Far from Over; Nope; End of the Tunnel; Down to the Wire; For Amiri Baraka;
Into Action; Wake; Good on the Ground; Threnody.
Vijay Iyer: piano, Fender Rhodes; Graham Haynes: cornet, flugelhorn, electronics;
Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Mark Shim: tenor saxophone; Stephan Crump:
double-bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.