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Vijay Iyer: Solo

Chris May By

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Pianist Vijay Iyer's Historicity (ACT Music, 2009) was among the spellbinders of its year, a 10 track trio album, one half originals, one half covers. Solo makes a return visit to the same playground, its 11 tracks comprising five originals and six covers of tunes written by Duke Ellington ("Black & Tan Fantasy," "La Fleurette Africaine"), Thelonious Monk ("Epistrophy"), Jimmy Van Heusen ("Darn That Dream"), Steve Coleman ("Games") and Steve Porcaro/John Bettis ("Human Nature," for the singer Michael Jackson).

This time out, freed up to romp alone in his own pianism, Iyer has made a disc which is, marginally, even more compelling than its predecessor. The difference is most apparent in the covers, where Iyer dives deep to find new twists and turns and harmonic surprises; all of them, however radical, sounding ineffably right, all of them glistening with a sense of revealed mystery.

"Darn That Dream" and "Black & Tan Fantasy" are both played relatively straight, the first pretty, the second knowingly anachronistic in its stride piano references and rather stiff beat (Ellington wrote the tune, with trumpeter Bubber Miley, in 1927). On "Epistrophy," Iyer takes a more teasing route, only fully unfolding the melody during the last 30 seconds or so. "La Fleurette Africaine," from Ellington's trio set with bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach, Money Jungle (Blue Note, 1962), at 7:56 minutes one of the longer tracks, is another discursive exposition. "Human Nature" is similarly short on verbatim quotation; Iyer, who has been including the tune in his set list since Jackson's death in 2009, first encountered it as an 11 year old, and has had plenty of time to find its hidden corners. (Is it cheap to suggest that Iyer was fortunate, perhaps, not to encounter "Human Nature" as an 11 year old on a sleepover at the King of Pop's house? Maybe, perhaps).

The originals include "One For Blount," a swinging, bluesy homage to pianist Sun Ra (aka Herman Blount), which closes the album, appropriately, with one foot in the past and the other in the present. The originals which precede it are more typically Iyeristic. Standouts are "Autoscopy," which, after a note-packed introductory section with echoes of Cecil Taylor, becomes an exercise in voluptuous lyricism, and "Patterns," 8:29 minutes of fierce free association driven by a reiterated, mesmerizing, little rhythmo-melodic motif. Magic, from start to finish.

Track Listing: Human Nature; Epistrophy; Darn That Dream; Black & Tan Fantasy; Prelude: Heartpiece; Autoscopy; Patterns; Desiring; Games; Fleurette Africaine; One For Blount.

Personnel: Vijay Iyer: piano.

Title: Solo | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: ACT Music

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