Review: Vijay Iyer Solo at the Vortex

Vijay Iyer
(Vortex, Monday December 13th, 2010, review by Geoff Winston)

Vijay Iyer, seating himself at the piano, looked at it meditatively, almost quizzically, and found his optimum posture before embarking on his recital, focused on the album ‘Solo’ (ACT), with dedications to Monk, Ellington, Sun Ra and half a dozen other “heroes”, who, as he smilingly told the Vortex audience, “keep me company.”

The restraint of the introduction to ‘Autoscopy’ led to a range of complex textures, rhythms and explorations – bass rumbles, pizzicato runs and single note repetitions – inspired by the psychic experience of leaving the body and watching it from above. A delayed flash of recognition was prompted as the theme from Monk’s ‘Epistrophy’ was picked out in Iyer’s skillful dissection.

‘I’m all Smiles’, cheery, yet with a hint of melancholy, had echoes of Bill Evans (oddly, not a listed as a ‘hero’); Duke’s ‘Black and Tan Fantasy’borrowed the structure of bar-room boogie-woogie and the feel of a New Orleans funeral march in Iyer’s refreshingly unconventional interpretation.

The second set saw a delicate, hypnotic sequence segue into insistent minimalist grounded rhythms, linking in to an intricate sequence informed by southern Indian Karnatak music – Iyer’s face was contorted as he concentrated on its elaborate and demanding execution – and elegiac references to his Indian family heritage.

A wonderfully daft version of what I think was ‘Giant Steps’ ensued and Iyer found a big sound and a heavy riff in a highly respectful rendering of Michael Jackson’s ‘Human Nature’– he reminded a sceptic in the room that Miles Davis, amongst others, has recorded this song.

The enraptured Vortex audience had been treated to a ‘concert hall concert in your front room’, characterised by Iyer’s virtuosity and overwhelmingly generous spirit of communication. Magic!

Photo: ACT Music

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