Vijay Iyer / Craig Taborn - The Transitory Poems

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Vijay Iyer: piano; Craig Taborn: piano.


Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn are two like-minded improvisers that consistently venture off the rails of traditional piano playing, embracing polyrhythmic mutations, effusive lines that speed up into full-flight fancy, and reciprocal textural work that make them distinct architects of unprecedented free jazz sceneries.

They first played together in the early 2000’s, when hired by Roscoe Mitchell to take part of his nine-piece ensemble Note Factory. Now, as a duo, they bring out The Transitory Poems, a thrilling double-piano improvisation recorded live in Budapest, and whose title was excerpted from an interview given by the late pianist Cecil Taylor.

On the opening tune, “Life Line”, they ruminatively pursue an identical idea that almost shapes like a scale. Single-note lines set against dark voicings are later confronted with other bouncy counter-voicings emitted on higher registers. The piece goes through happy stages of modern classical music and boogie-woogie, takes the form of reflective and dreamy meditations, and evokes epic intonations over a simple pedal. It’s like living in a lucid state of temporary confusion, where we know that every musical puzzle will be solved.

Dedicated to painter Jack Whitten, “Sensorium” hangs on a congested interpolation of phrases before ending peacefully, shrouded in neoclassical streams of intuition.

Kairós” is initially sketched with silences and short melodic manifestations that let radiant glimpses of light in. This sort of babbling exercise expands into a smart collection of sounds loaded with left-hand rhythmic jabs and other accentuations. Expect a hallucinating folk dance to finish. “Shake Down” is also structured with celebratory folk passages, centering in a rhythmic idea apt for mercurial variations. At a particular time, bass notes quiver as new sounds shape.

S.H.A.R.D.S.” and “Clear Monolith” are definitely among my favorite pieces. The former employs a jazz-centered melodic-harmonic foil pushed forward in its last section by an electro-rock pulse, while the latter, dedicated to the great pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, is a staccato-infused impromptu turned avant epic. One can sense strong winds coming from the Far East and a spiritual current running through our bodies.

Meshwork”, the record’s final track, is externalized with bustling jolts of energy, culminating in a slower version of Geri Allen’s “When Kabuya Dances”, here tackled with deep sentiment.

Boasting a phenomenal structural discernment, Iyer and Taborn do wonders with their agile fingers, merging their sounds to form a compact and unique whole. The world trusts these top-tier creative minds to keep shaking and amazing the modern music scene.

Grade  A+

Grade A+

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Kairós ► 04 - S.H.A.R.D.S. ► 06 - Clear Monolith

Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup - Vijay Iyer: piano; Graham Haynes - trumpet, cornet; Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Mark Shim: tenor saxophone; Stephan Crump: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.


Vijay Iyer is a tour-de-force pianist, improviser, and composer whose innovative concepts about music got him a wide legion of jazz fans.
To materialize the ten new original compositions included on Far From Over, his fifth ECM album, he opted to trust his recurrent rhythmic partners Stephan Crump and Tyshawn Sorey, respectively bassist and drummer, and enlisted the resourceful saxophonists Steve Lehman and Mark Shim, as well as the trumpeter Graham Haynes for a spectacular frontline.

The introductory section of “Poles” is launched with solo piano, to which bass and drums join before the luxuriant entrance of the reedists, who infuse striking counterpoint to the already bombastic groovy flow. Iyer’s incisive comping and rhythmical expression work in synergistic communion with Crump and Sorey, who respond with sturdiness to Lehman’s pungent language full of steep accentuations. In opposition to the altoist, Haynes, less adrenalized and more embraceable, contemplates with pleasure first and then explores before wrapping up.

Both the grandiose title track and the pushful “Good On the Ground” gallop energetically by employing vigorous rhythms. While the former, dishing out majestic polyphonies over a beautiful textural matrix, gives the opportunity to the horn players to shine individually and collectively, the latter, seems to have been made for an action movie with heart and bravery as key factors. It eventually glides into jazzy ground to sustain Shim’s infectious phrasing, Iyer’s extemporaneous runs and mordacious note aggregations, and Sorey’s powerful rhythmic cramps.

A fluid post-bop interpretation suffused with an impeccable rhythmic sense defines “Down to the Wire”, which features Shim’s dark timbre and impressive power of argumentation. Crump and Sorey, always working side by side for a steadfast navigation, weave a ductile layer that serves Iyer’s flexible ideas. Eloquent and adjustable, the pianist excels in his vibrant attacks.

Airing danceable and unambiguous vibes, “Into Action” serves as a vehicle for Haynes and the bandleader extemporize their creative thoughts. Even if we find some rhythmic connotations with “Nope”, an urban jazz-funk piece where Iyer adventures himself on the Fender Rhodes, this tune stands on a completely different shelf.

Quieter moods may be enjoyed not only on “For Amiri Baraka”, a poetic stance that expands harmonically in a classic trio format, but also on “Wake”, whose innocuous movements convey the lethargy of awakening from a heavy sleep, and “Threnody”, where the initial cerebral serenity is shaken by Lehman’s cutting-edge expansiveness.

Far From Over propagates revolutionary sound waves with the visceral earnestness that has been always associated with the pianist’s work along all these years. Vijay Iyer's compositional style translates into a vortex of possibilities in terms of rhythmic intensity, challenging time signatures, and interactive action, which are all unmistakable features of this authentic and consummate jazz artist.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Poles ► 02 - Far From Over ► 05 - Down To The Wire

Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith - A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke

Vijay Iyer: piano, Fender Rhodes, electronics; Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet.

When the highly sensitive chords and textures created by the pianist Vijay Iyer meet the pungent trumpet melodies of Wadada Leo Smith, there are uncanny sensations floating in the air.
Passage” displays a melodic cry over a dramatic foundation that inhabits between the beautiful and the dark. 
In “All Becomes Alive”, Iyer makes use of electronic components, introducing a 2-note bass ostinato. In turn, Smith exposes his impressive technique through exquisite and precise melodic phrases. This song becomes enchantingly percussive in its final section. 
Mysterious tones created by Iyer involve “The Empty Mind Receives”, where Smith uses a trumpet mute to express himself slowly and clearly.
Labyrinths” is a spontaneous avant-garde incursion that makes justice to its title, entangling us in grandiose piano/trumpet explorations. 
Spaceships, planets, and distant galaxies came to my mind in “A Divine Courage”, whose ominous vibes in the background give place to a ravishing cinematic atmosphere.  
Notes on Water”, despite the tranquilizing start and Iyer’s residual accompaniment on Fender Rhodes, evolves into a mesmerizing crescendo where Smith’s attacks can be compared to tumults of temper and emotion.
In this haunting achievement, minimalism and virtuosity are deeply interconnected.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Passage ► 02 – All Becomes Alive ► 04 – Labyrinths