Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey
(Queen Elizabeth Hall. 14 November 2021. EFG London Jazz Festival . Review by Alison Bentley)
“Do you feel good?” US pianist Vijay Iyer asked the audience with wry humour. “We’re going to change that!“ Compere Kevin Legendre had told us how Iyer’s music “…called out oppression, inequality and unconscionable government practices.” Would it make us feel understandably UnEasy, the title of the trio’s new ECM album? With no interval and few introductions by Iyer, the experience was utterly involving and intense.
The pieces flowed into each other with no titles. Notes dropped slowly from the piano; patterns of light were like drops of water on the stage. Tyshawn Sorey’s gentle drum rolls picked up the piano notes. Then a densely funky groove developed. Iyer is known for his intellectual approach to music, but the sheer physicality of the trio’s playing was a surprise. Iyer played strong McCoy-style chords across the complex beat. Linda May Han Oh’s melodic bass solo was high on the neck. She’s spoken about how mentor Ron Carter advised her to focus on the quality of her sound, and she had a beautiful tone. An unbearable tension built as everyone followed the simple riff. Sorey created a huge sound with just bass drum, snare, hi hat and cymbal, sometimes even overwhelming the piano a little.
Porter’s Night and Day was de- and reconstructed wittily, keeping surprisingly close to the original chords. Oh leaned into the bass as if she was dancing with it, holding the descending bassline over scattershot drums. It was surprising how Romantic and lyrical Iyer could be, with dramatic glissandi. Another piece was minor and pensive, perhaps with phrases from the musical culture of Iyer’s South Indian background, the bass solo full of folk motifs. The piano began with single note riffs, as if each chord was something to be investigated all by itself, safe in its own mode, until broken open Into longer runs. Mesmerising gamelan-like chords followed, with Steve Reichian deceptive simplicity. The bass drum locked in with the piano to free the cymbals in a curtain of sound. Children of Flint was “a reference to the contaminated water of Flint, Michigan,”a pollution scandal. The piano groove was tense with poignant pedal overtones, leading to wild drums.
Sorey started Geri Allen’s Drummer’s Song with intriguing percussive sounds. Delicate African lines on bass and piano blurred together like a kora. As the funky collective improvisation grew, the piano notes seemed balanced precariously on top as the piano climbed the chords to the peak. The bass had a lopsided urgent M-Base feel; the piano chords spread across the dark groove like flashes of lightning.
Another piece was full of Eastern grace notes on the bass, as Oh pulled emotions from the depths of the bass- a huge cheer for her solo. A playful, boppish, Monk-ish phase had sloping swing, (hints of Well You Needn’t) glorious piano crashes and a sense of fun.
The trio are in the middle of a European tour (“a drive-by gig” quipped Iyer) and had the energy and commitment of a touring band- there was a well-deserved standing ovation. Just as you thought they were winding down with slow sus chords, they seemed to increase the energy to another level: rock cadences; reggae backbeats, feeding off each other’s energy.
“There’s something in the ritual of sharing musical experience that reminds us of what we are, what we have in common, what we’re made of…” Iyer told one interviewer- and that’s how it felt, with moments of both uneasiness and euphoria. This was an extraordinary gig with what Iyer called “…two of the most incredible musicians on the planet.”- make that three.
Categories: Live review