Saturday, September 04, 2010

Vijay Iyer - Solo (ACT Records, 2010)

Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer has been on a very successful roll lately with well received albums and collaborations. He has also been re-examining his music, and paring away anything that is superfluous or unnecessary to his music. That aesthetic really shows on this album, featuring him in a solo context and honing his own music and the music he interprets into a well defined crystalline clarity. He opens with a surprising cover of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature," but there is nothing coy or ironic about this choice. The music is taken at face value with a melodic, almost meditative melancholy. The music is built on strong bass notes, becoming open and haunting. Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy" has a faster rippling improvisation, hinting at the famous melody, giving us glimpses, like a beautiful building seen from a fast moving car. Low bass notes and a hint of stride piano also anchor a beautiful version of Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy" which builds to the melody shorn of any excess or ornamentation. Percussive piano keeps the piece moving briskly and provides a fascinating modern window into an older composition. After probing musical deep space with "Prelude: Heartpiece," Iyer moves to "Autoscopy" building fast free-ish piano in a skittering downpour of notes. The music moves dynamically into a spare and delicate middle section before the energy rebuilds for the finale. Two more originals, "Patters" and Desiring" follow, which are both patient, spare and open. Iyer allows the music to flow naturally, building dark and deep shades of music that are crystal clear yet mysterious. Another Ellington composition, the beautiful "Fleurette Africaine" is an awesome performance, beginning slowly and respectfully with the spare and melodic improvisation moving through a deep emotional resonance, developing a beautiful yet achingly sad performance, with a haunting and elegiac vibe tinged with longing. A dedication to Sun Ra, "One for Blount," ends the album on a hopeful note, with Iyer building the music to a faster percussive feel, yet still maintaining a deep melodic nature. Rippling waves of notes move quickly as the improvisation glides to a strong conclusion. This is a deeply powerful and personal statement from one of the most interesting musicians on the contemporary scene. The music really comes from deep within, and at times you feel as if Iyer has opened up and allowed you to peer into his own musical soul. The music touches on many emotions from joy to pain, yet remains steadfastly honest and genuine throughout. Solo -

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