Marlbank grabbed a word earlier today with Vijay Iyer speaking from his hotel room ahead of the sound check for tonight's Wigmore Hall concert with the Ritual Ensemble.
The pianist, composer, bandleader and Harvard professor had arrived in London yesterday from New York and following his appearance at the revered chamber venue where he is composer-in-residence he will deliver a talk at lunchtime tomorrow on ‘Musicality’ in conversation with Oxford professor Georgina Born.
Next week, on Monday evening, he plays Belfast and concert goers there will get to hear him play solo a factor that will make that concert even more special. Vijay says that he plays solo perhaps ‘‘6-10 times per year.’’
Understandably cagey about revealing too many details expect a new trio record on ECM ''towards the end of the year.''
Iyer manages to unleash a sense of pure improvisatory abstraction that can cross over into the realms of contemporary classical music as well as responding to the historical demands of jazz piano.
There is no set list looking ahead to Belfast he says but expect he hints choices to include repertoire from his album Solo from 2010 plus new work borne out of improvisation, a discipline key to his compositional practice.
Iyer’s most recent album was a sublime duo summit recorded in Hungary with Craig Taborn entitled The Transitory Poems and he will be performing with Taborn again later this year.
Asked what he thinks in terminology terms about ‘’Indojazz,’’ an expression a lot of jazz fans relate to or use as shorthand when they think of bands such as Shakti, he says that: ‘’It’s very 20th century. The world has changed. The US has changed.’’ He compares the nebulousness of ''Indojazz’’ to the often used but just as meaninglessly rendered ‘’third stream’’. Indojazz he notes ‘’doesn’t speak of today.’’
In the Ritual Ensemble, in which he is joined by vocalist Ganavya, saxophonist/percussionist Yosvany Terry and mridangam player Rajna Swaminathan and that owes something in common with his much cherished Tirtha project (‘Abundance’ from that era may get performed tonight), he notes that all members of the ensemble are composers as well as artists and: ‘’We are modern cosmopolitan human beings doing something new.’’ He observes that the role of the artist exists as part of the process of challenging complacencies and that can include the political. The artist is there to ‘’imagine in public and to articulate with emotion in the ritualistic way of performance.’’
At Harvard he sees his role in what above all he wishes to inculcate in his students as a desire to ''help people’’ and involves ''shepherding a process of growth and transformation and cultivating ideas in a community that is larger than themselves.’’
Looking ahead to later in the year he says that his sextet will be playing again in the spring and so will his trio. At the Jazz Standard club in New York the trio will be joined by Wadada Leo Smith. An interesting new collaboration coming up is with the poet Eve Ewing.
The role of the performer, Iyer observes tellingly, is providing ‘’a service on behalf of others. You want what you are doing to connect and to matter and like make a difference in someone’s life.’’
Photo: of Vijay Iyer, Lynne Harty/ECM