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Vijay Iyer and His Trio Come to Williamstown, MA

Lyn Horton By

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Only one piece, Iyer's "Helix," had been played but the band had revealed the stronghold of its integrity, its process of integration and its tendencies to lean off-center.

Iyer is unquestionably the leader of the band but his uncharacteristic looseness reared its head with this group. This is evident in the way he uncapped any kind of formula for his improvisations. Particularly in Bernstein's "Somewhere," Iyer hammered double-handed chords from the treble to the mid-zone of the keyboard; at this point, his body came off the piano bench and he drove into improvisation. He opened himself wide; his right shoulder and arm pulled back just before he plunged into moving his hand from one chord to another. He offset the resonance with trills. He moved up and down the keyboard with lithe fingerings and finally settled in the middle with a delicate drone. He was allowing bassist Crump to stand alone to sing in pizzicato and arco form. Gilmore bathed the music in soft, muted sibilance.

Overall, the pattern expectations from the piano were broken but not without serious insistence. How this affected Iyer's bandmates shone clearly when Gilmore soloed. Gilmore's drumming exhibited a centering, similar to Iyer's pianistic schema, especially in the way the bass drum steadily sounded. One of the drummer's exceedingly long sticks hit the center of the ride cymbal repeatedly, producing non-decayed ringing, prior to the sticks moving gracefully from the snare to the floor tom. The snare rattled as Gilmore now stayed on it, again persistently: one stick from the snare to the upper tom and then back again, again and again. Gilmore's back was straight as he looked straight ahead, his focus never faltering.

Crump emerged as an unalterable force for the crew. The personality of his playing illuminated its staunch reliability and clarity. When the bass pursued a tangent, it was not long before the piano and drums could fall back into the stream. It was as if the bass was a tangible and audible extension of the other two instruments. The tonality of Crump's bass strings was unusual; it projected depth and waves from the high register at the same time.

Iyer possesses a stunning ability to compose formally; his awareness of how sound works in layers, hooks and intercepts shows itself brilliantly in his music, especially in larger instrumental contexts. Yet, with the shift to the context of this particular trio, Iyer's amorphous spirit expresses itself obliquely, with finesse, a bit of mystery and completely on target.



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Lyn Horton

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