Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey – Uneasy
(ECM 3520696. Review by John Bungey)
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If I was one third of a piano trio (which luckily for the health of British music I am not), I don’t know how I’d feel about this album. Awe, almost certainly, but that might tip over into despair that a trio could raise the bar so high with its displays of intricate group-thinking. Vijay Iyer, the New York-based pianist, bandleader and composer, is joined by two other admired musician/composers: the drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Linda May Han Oh. On their debut recording they sound like a veteran trio whose ability to negotiate tricksy meters and spontaneously shift focus is used to serve the music rather than bedazzle the listener.
The theme of the album is the political and social uncertainty of the age. The first clue is the cover, a hazy shot of a distant Statue of Liberty, who looks like she is walking away rather than welcoming anyone’s tired, poor or huddled masses. Combat Breathing, written in 2014, is an early acknowledgement of Black Lives Matter. Children of Flint was inspired by a pollution scandal in a black community near Detroit. This opening track begins as a slow, reflective melody until Sorey’s sizzling cymbals open the tune up. Oh plays a tenderly melodic solo before Iyer’s rhapsodic explorations take over. Throughout, no one grandstands, no one is pushed into the shadows. This trio is “basically one organism”, says Iyer.
Eight of the tunes are the pianist’s, some revisited from earlier groups. The approach is more direct and accessible than the improvisatory tack Iyer took on records with Craig Taborn and Wadada Leo Smith. The non-originals are Geri Allen’s Drummer Song, whose tricky architecture sounds thoroughly natural here, and an inventive, rhythm-heavy take on Cole Porter’s Night and Day.
The nine-minute title track does indeed start in uneasy minor-key mood with meditative, pensive piano. This gives way to a lyrical passage from Oh, subtly supported by her bandmates. The energy then builds in waves with Iyer letting fly propelled by increasingly stormy percussion until a calm of sorts descends. It’s a resolution, though not exactly a happy ending.
But if the theme of the album is uncertainty then, ironically, that restlessness has inspired a hugely confident-sounding trio. A candidate for the best of 2021 lists? I should think so.
Categories: Album reviews