(Vortex, March 3rd 2010, review by Peter Horsfall)
Raw Materials. It’s an apt name for the duo which played the Vortex last Wednesday. Long-standing collaborators pianist Vijay Iyer and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa bring a wealth of fascinating material. It was a coup for the Vortex: these players, at the top of their game, are in demand everywhere and were welcomed by a sold-out crowd.
The absolute mutual trust required to play in a progressive duo context like this was clearly in evidence as the two worked through a set full of intricate rhythmic figures and intriguing improvisations.
Mahanthappa has a formidable technique. He executes blinding passages of snaking runs at the drop of a hat, with a direct and gritty tone reminiscent of the sound of Lee Konitz in recent times. Pianist Iyer, by contrast, can pack just a few notes full of powerful expressive content.
The duo juxtaposed thick textures with single melodic lines played in such sculpted unison that at times the two musicians sounded as one. Iyer explored the full dynamic and textural range of the piano; his elongated drones for instance gave Manhanthappa free rein to head off in idiosyncratic and exploratory directions. In contrast, the interplay between these two explosive personalities was just as exciting and the writing was clearly in service of this.
Above all the group grooved pretty hard, demonstrating a mastery over time-keeping and the manipulation of rhythmic and melodic ideas. These are two of the leading lights of modern improvised music. The warmth of the welcome and the intensity of the listening which they experienced at the Vortex will hopefully encourage them to return soon.