Pianist/composer Vijay Iyer has employed different instrumental forces for each of his ECM albums. Most recently, A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (2016) was a duet with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, while Break Stuff (2015) featured his long standing trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore. For his fifth ECM date as a leader he has expanded to a sextet. The rhythm section includes Crump and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, who has long subbed for Gilmore in the trio, as well as working with Iyer on other projects. The three horn playersGraham Haynes (cornet, flugelhorn and electronics), Steve Lehman (alto saxophone), and Mark Shim (tenor saxophone)are among Iyer's favorite musicians.
The larger line-up gives Iyer a broad palette of ensemble textures and timbres to work with. "Poles" begins the set with a bit of a tease: an unaccompanied piano introduction. The rest of the trio joins in, then finally the horns. Their jerky rhythm breaks apart into overlapping lines, then back togetherfollowed by Shim's tenor solo. Iyer switches to Rhodes electric piano for Haynes' flugelhorn solo (recalling trumpeter Miles Davis' fusion period), and the piece winds down in that mode. It's almost a microcosm of the stylistic and timbral range of the entire album.
The title tune features all three horns trading short solos before coming together for an exuberant collective conversation, setting up the leader's solo. After doing some riffing behind the piano, the horns execute what sounds like an elaborate composed passage, eventually going out on the theme. Once again a rich blend of individual and collective playing. "Nope" changes things up again with its deliberate funk. Iyer switches from Rhodes to acoustic piano for his angular solo, which made me think about how pianist Thelonious Monk might have played funk.
Haynes' electronics are heavily featured on two tracks: "End Of The Tunnel" and "Wake," both of them atmospheric contrasts with the denser, more active sound of the sextet tracks. "For Amiri Baraka" is another contrast, a contemplative portrait for the trio only. "Down To The Wire" is also a trio track for most of the first half: but then the horns solo, followed by the drums, finally coming together at the end. The driving rhythm of "Good On The Ground" makes it sound like the album closer (it also features a second drum solo). But it ends on an elegiac note with "Threnody," this time with the horns in full cry.
Far From Over is a splendid showcase for Iyer as pianist and composer, and there is plenty of space for the other sextet members to shine as well. A fine addition to his discography, and an excellent place for new listeners to start.
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.
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