The Upshot: Pianist Iyer has already proven himself a jazz master, but here he takes his talent as composer, player, and bandleader to new heights.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Pianist Vijay Iver has built an impressive career over twenty years, channeling his interests in classical music, physics, music cognition and, of course, jazz into a substantial body of work that continues to grow. Far From Over, his first recorded project with his Sextet, not only adds an item to his catalog – it also marks a new milestone.
Iyer’s varied background gives him a distinctive touch. Though he has fifteen years of classical training on the violin, he’s a self-taught pianist, which allows him to simultaneously understand the rules and know how to break them. (Arguably the mark of any great jazz musician.) The New York native walks that thin but beautiful line between in and out, staying melodic even as he ignores a song’s key or tempo to explore. Listen to his runs on “Down To the Wire,” as he races up and down the keyboard with ever-increasing aggression, but never any loss of control, or his solo on “Good On the Ground,” which rattles, rock and rolls logically, rather than anarchically. He’s matched in his nimble dancing by drummer Tyshawn Storey and longtime bassist Stephan Crump, who follow their leader closely but get plenty of room to add their own touches. The horn players that fill out the band, including longtime Iyer associate Steve Lehman and Blue Note veteran Mark Shim on sax and M-Base co-founder Graham Haynes on brass, fit right into Iyer’s conceptions, handling dense orchestration or free-wheeling solos with equal skill and aplomb.
None of this would matter without a solid foundation on which to stand, and it’s as a compositional architect that Iyer truly shines. “Into Action” and “Nope” ride funky grooves without coming anywhere near fusion, the players carrying the melodies with a relaxed sense of joy. Boasting a beautiful but non-romantic melody, “For Amira Baraka” flows like a river through a forest at sunset, meditative but consistently in motion. “Poles” and “Good On the Ground” field hot pepper rhythms that jump around without flying off to the side, adding vibrant piano and horn hooks atop the bounce. Iyer explores his avant garde side on “End of the Tunnel,” deftly mixing electronic eccentricity into a jazz tone poem that’s less stuffy than sonorous.
Iyer really makes an effort here to highlight all sides of his musical skills, letting two decades of experience boil into an exceptionally tasty dish. Iyer has already proven himself a jazz master, but with Far From Over, he takes his talent as composer, player and bandleader to new heights.
DOWNLOAD: “Down To the Wire,” “For Amiri Baraka,” “Good On the Ground”