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Vijay Iyer Solo at San Francisco Performances

Harry S. Pariser By

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Vijay Iyer
San Francisco Performances
San Francisco, CA
November 16, 2013

Polymath, pianist, arranger, composer, Grammy nominee, creative program director, a doctorate holder, the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur "genius" fellowship, the recipient of a groundbreaking "quintuple crown" in the 2012 Down Beat International Critics Poll, as well as a "quadruple crown" in the JazzTimes extended critics poll. Soon to be a Harvard Professor. Declared Pianist of the Year for both 2012 and 2013 by the Jazz Journalists Association. Winner of the 2013 ECHO Award (the "German Grammy") for best international pianist.

Who is this wunderkind? The answer is Vijay Iyer. A Bay Area performing artist before seeking and finding acclaim in New York City, Iyer has been the Artist-in-Residence for SF Performances for the past four years.

On a chilly November Saturday evening, Iyer, donned in a white shirt, dark suit and purple shawl, took the stage of SFJazz in downtown San Francisco. Walking out to his gleaming Steinway, he seated himself on the bench.

Following a moment of contemplation (having had no set list, his performance selections were chosen in the moment), he leaned forward, his fingers reflecting off the black mirrorlike shine of his Steinway, hands prancing up and down the keyboards, launching into a thoughtful and considered medley of some of his compositions from his Open City Large Ensemble Project, a coalition featuring 20 musicians, a rapper and novelist Teju Cole, whose novel Open City gave that ensemble its name. At various, and sometimes overlapping times, the music was stately, elegant, lyrical, percussive, poetic, sensual and flowing.

Standing he took a bow, as he did after every song. He then launched boldly into "Work," a marvelous composition by pianist Thelonious Monk, presumably a major influence.

Next up, the Randy Weston-influenced "Spellbound and Sacrosanct, Cowrie Shells and the Shimmering Sea" began soft and silently, as Iyer almost massaged the keys. Flowing, delicate and nuanced, the tune ended with a meditative pause. Then, he began "Accumulated Gestures," as his right hand firmly pressed the keys, his fingers canterwauling, moving rapidfire, which lent a percussive edge to the piece.

Addressing the audience, he remarked "Thanks for coming. I'm so grateful. What I've been doing tonight is a lot of things I have never done solo in public before." After a pause, he continued: "When you put yourself at risk, you become a new version of yourself. I've been working with Trio Three—a group comprised of bassist Reggie Workman, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and saxophonist Oliver Lake. "I never thought I would be asking to hear more Reggie Workman in my headphones," he declared.

He went on to introduce the poignant and layered "Suite for Trayvon and Thousands More," a tune penned because "it (violence against young Blacks) keeps happening."

Iyer then sat silently for a long moment before he began the classic "Body and Soul," launched with a percussive roar, foot on the pedal fingering spiderlike. "Countdown" followed. Then he stood again and, after placing his hand over his heart, he departed, only to return with Duke Ellington's "Black and White Fantasy" from his Solo CD."


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