(Vortex, July 8th 2010, review by Patrick Hadfield)
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Two piano trios shared the bill at the Vortex this week – London-based Triptych and the Vijay Iyer Trio. Their similarities and differences made a fascinating comparison, two contrasting explorations of where the piano trio is in 2010.
Richard Fairhurst’s Triptych played the first set, celebrating the release of their new album, “Amusia”. Much of Fairhurst’s playing had a lyrical, Satie-like pace. Spacious, delicate arrangements, the drums and bass quietly supporting the piano. Fairhurst’s unaccompanied piano coda to the trio’s opener was particularly gorgeous. At times, the pace picked up, with bassist Riaan Vosloo using his bow percussively, with the piano playing unconnected free-jazz phrases. And then there was interesting tension, when bass and drums broke into fast standard time with a walking bassline, while Fairhurst continued in free mode.Overall the balance of the trio works well: Chris Vatalaro’s subtle drumming complements Fairhurst’s piano, unobtrusive in the quieter sections but he held his own, as the power increased.
My only criticism – probably inevitable in a double bill like this – was that the set of listenable-to, rich but complex music felt short – I would have ideally wanted longer to explore their music.
I have seen Vijay Iyer in various formats over the last few years: solo and in a quartet in New York; in February at the Vortex when he was in duet with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. But I had not seen his trio.
After Triptych, it took a while to adjust to Iyer’s trio: they were loud by comparison, opening with Marcus Gilmore playing a pretty standard rock beat on the drums and Stephan Crump riffing on his bass; behind this, Iyer’s sparse piano playing sounded quite spacey. He was working against the hard beat, laying down seemingly random free chords, creating a mixture of abstract and concrete. The piano grew in intensity until Iyer took over for a full-on piano solo.
After the loud start, they settled into a more contemplative fashion, with Iyer bringng something of Keith Jarrett’s: minimalism and repetitiveness, but then building up his playing until he was producing cascades of notes.
They created contrasts within the set, moving from free jazz into standard jazz time, disconcerting after what had preceded it. They became a power trio, pushing along; the audience roared out whoops as the band sped on. For three people, they created a huge sound. They quietened down for a softer, more contemplative approach, with lots of space between the notes. The trio built, and built, and built, Iyer filling the space with low, rumbling bass chords. Over a long number they worked the dynamics of the piece, delivering a lot of power but playing quietly. At the end, the highly responsive Vortex audience was silent, not wanting to break the spell.
It would be possible to see these two trios as representative of European and American styles, but that would be too simplistic, and also do both groups a disservice. What matters is that each trio creates its own brand of intriguing, exciting and fascinating music, which holds an audience completely spellbound.
I just have to say …
VJ Iyer's trio with Stephan Crump and Marcus Gilmore is exceptional. I'd gone on spec to the Vortex, and left at about 11.30pm knowing that I'd experienced one of THE gigs of the year – no question. Phenomenal. It is so rare to find musicians who are out there and working at the edges of the territory, defining their own music, rather than me-too-ing. And with such style, grace and technical confidence!
This was the perfect venue for them, and it was a privilege to witness a superb, near 2hr set which we, and they, absolutely enjoyed. The great thing is that they appreciate each other’s playing tremendously. None of that 'I’ll turn off while the other guys solo'. The playing harmony was fantastic.
Iyer's playing is intensely melodic, rhythmic and, in an understated way, unmistakably assertive – a joy to hear live. The solos by Crump and Gilmore late on in the set were brilliant – Gilmore's was so fresh – delivered with a gentle wit, it opened up new territory at every turn.
VJ Iyer's trio really are up at that higher plane, imaginatively, creatively and technically – they have that something extra – and that is a massive and all-too-elusive quality.
What a great gig!