Vjay Iyer and Craig Taborn – The Transitory Poems(ECM: 773 0119. CD review by Nick Davies)Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, two of creative music’s most resourceful players, learned to meld and mesh their artistic approaches inside Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory ensemble. Since then, Iyer and Taborn have continued to play concerts together. The Transitory Poems, recorded live at the Franz Liszt Academy, Budapest, in March 2018, is their first duo album and incorporates pieces offered as tributes to formative influences including pianists Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams and Geri Allen, and painter and sculptor, Jack Whitten.
In Mitchell’s group, Taborn and Iyer were called upon to address complex notated material and to deal, concurrently, with the challenges of instant composing and spontaneous arrangement via collective and individual improvisation. “Our duo formed in the crucible of that band,” Vijay and Craig remark in a performers’ note, “…in pursuit of music unique to its moment of creation.” This has remained the quest throughout their subsequent duo work, shaping music in real time, the project evolving from concert to concert. “Something was born for me in the context of working with Roscoe,” according to Iyer, alluding to: “a certain quality of listening: how to navigate, how to give way to each other, how to build together…”
Purely a piano duo album with no accompanying instruments, these masters of their trade interweave beautifully to create an illusion of a much bigger ensemble. From the first song, Life Line (Seven Tensions), to the last, Meshwork/Libation/When Kaybuya Dances, it is a masterclass in duo piano magic in the ECM tradition. There is no competition between the two musicians, instead, evidently a great understanding and a deep respect for improvised music and each other. This is rare: improvisation is difficult in a band setting but with pianos it is even harder because, if the playing is not spot on, it tends to sound untuneful.
Both Iyer and Taborn manage to create an atmosphere that transports the listener to another dimension. Each track runs into the next, creating a journey which only ends with the last note. At times, the realism is so great, it’s as if you are actually in the same room.
Overall, this is a brilliant album and something that you would expect from a label like ECM. It is easy to immerse yourself into the musical world of Taborn and Iyer. The interplay between the duo is world class, a lesson to aspiring duo or solo pianists and a must hear for 2019.