Review: Vijay Iyer Trio on the South Bank

Vijay Iyer. London, 5th Feb 2013. Photo credit: Roger Thomas
Vijay Iyer Trio
(Purcell Room, 5th February. Review by Chris Parker)

On the sleeve of Historicity, his first ACT album with his current trio (completed by bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore), pianist Vijay Iyer explains the title thus: ‘it’s the past that’s setting us in motion … eons of recorded music ringing in our ears … all of our music draws influence from musical traditions of South Asia, Africa, and their diasporas … and everyday life in transcultural New York’.

This interval-less concert might have been specially programmed to illustrate his point, containing as it did material not only from jazz composers such as Henry Threadgill (‘Little Pocket-Sized Demons’), but also covers (described by Iyer as ‘tributes … a conversation between the original work and something else entirely; the best word for it is “versioning”’) of pieces by bassist Stephen ‘Thundercat’ Bruner (‘Mmmhmm’), Cleethorpes-born songwriter Rod Temperton (more famous for ‘Thriller’ but on this occasion represented by ‘The Star of a Story’) and (continuing the Michael Jackson connection) the Bettis/Porcano classic, immortalised in jazz by Miles Davis, ‘Human Nature’.

It was not so much the matter of the performance, however, but the manner that kept a full Purcell Room rapt for nearly two hours and then brought many of them to their feet at its conclusion. Iyer identifies, in the above-mentioned note, a ‘disruptive quality’ in his trio’s approach, achievable courtesy of the ‘several years of intensive collaboration behind us’, and his concerts are indeed notable for the hair-trigger mutual sensitivity and infectious brio that the band bring to their music, whether Iyer originals (‘Bode’, ‘Lude’) or covers. Gilmore and Crump are equally at home with fleet, straightahead jazz under Iyer’s occasional sizzling runs as with street beats and hypnotic grooves, and the sense of space and sheer drama they can construct from subtle shifts of rhythmic emphasis and slow-building dynamic variation is extraordinarily impressive. 

Vijay Iyer, Stephan Crump. Marcus Gilmore.London, 5th Feb 2013.
Photo credit: Roger Thomas
Iyer himself is not a pianist keen to impress with dazzling virtuosity (though he can reel off a flawless boppish solo if required); rather, he is a patient, thoroughly musicianly player who is as interested in timbre and texture as in straightforward propulsiveness, content to repeat a stripped-down phrase for as long as it takes to mine all its possibilities.

Consequently, this concert was not only an object lesson in fierce, intelligent interactiveness, but also an immediately accessible, fascinatingly wide-ranging and – thanks to a series of friendly introductions from the personable Iyer – warm experience that brought to mind his closing words on Historicity’s sleeve: ‘Music … also connects – carrying us smoothly across the tumult of experience, like water over rocks’.

Categories: miscellaneous

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