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Vijay Iyer: Solo

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Vijay Iyer may be one of the great ones; only time will tell. The pianist has risen to become a critics' darling, mostly on the basis of his quartet outings, including the much-lauded Reimagining (Savoy Jazz, 2005) and Tragicomic (Sunnyside Records, 2008). He's worked a trio magic, to, -with his piano/saxophone/drums Fieldwork group, on the high intensity Your Life Flashes (Pi Recordings, 20002), Simulated Progress (Pi Recordings, 2005), and Door (Pi Recordings, 2008).

All of Iyer's recordings, pre-2009, have featured saxophonists: the innovative Rudresh Mahanthappa on the sets under his own name, and the equally-talented Aaron Stewart and Steve Lehman on the Fieldwork sets.

Iyer's Historicity (ACT Music, 2009)—a piano trio offering—and now Solo, indicate a paring down of the approach, and also a move into more non-original material, with marvelous results.

A good one-word description of Iyer's work, pre-Historicity would be "intense." The majority of his earlier offerings are full-speed-ahead, chip-on-the-shoulder, perhaps, with a tinge of anger—sounds that are looking to kick somebody's ass. The absence of the very aggressive saxophonists he employs seems to have injected some calm introspection into his artistry. He opens Solo with "Human Nature," the Michael Jackson hit that Miles Davis brought over to the jazz side. Iyer respects the beautiful melody, and gives it a restless quality.

The restlessness continues on Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy," a busy, clamorous rendition that leads into a tension-and-release of the American Songbook tune, "Darn That Dream." Iyer feels his way into the ruminative melody and adds dashes of Monk-like dissonance.

Iyer also proves himself a superb interpreter of Duke Ellington compositions. His take on "Black and Tan Fantasy" possesses a jaunty, devil-may-care, percussive strut. "Fleurette Africaine" drifts deep into a somber mood that suggests a fitful struggle in its more percussive sections.

Iyer's own compositions often have an inward, very personal quality to them. "Autoscopy" is a turbulent, bristling disturbance, with flashes of unfettered Cecil Taylor-like freedom before Iyer settles the sound into a soothing groove that he alternates with segments of high tension.

"Patterns" begins with a moment of peaceful reflection that builds to Iyer-esque, hard-charging intensity, while "Desiring" glows with an especially lovely and wistful mood of unrequited want.

By 2008, Vijay Iyer's work gave the feeling of an artist having reached a plateau, with a sense of sameness from one disc to the next. Now the pianist's vision expands. After the superb Historicity, the expectations for Iyer were high; with Solo, he has exceeded them .

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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