Vijay Iyer interview

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 …

Published: 10 Jan 2020. Updated: 6 months.

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

Tags: Interviews

Rare Rashied Ali tracks surface on a double LP

One of the biggest thrills I have ever experienced in listening to jazz since I first got into the music as a teenager was hearing Rashied Ali for the first time live back in 1997. I was blown away that time at the Jazz Cafe in London's Camden …

Published: 10 Jan 2020. Updated: 6 months.

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One of the biggest thrills I have ever experienced in listening to jazz since I first got into the music as a teenager was hearing Rashied Ali for the first time live back in 1997. I was blown away that time at the Jazz Cafe in London's Camden Town, chatted to him a bit later and heard him a few more times in the Finnish cities of Tampere and Pori. He advised me in a brief chat to go listen to Interstellar Space which I did and have done a lot since. That album, the acme of Ali's duo rapport with John Coltrane, has inspired so many improvisers down the decades notably in recent years Binker and Moses.

Ali makes you think of drumming differently. He called it 'multidirectional' and for that he was an innovator, a style that students write PhDs about and free-form drummers admire because of the way the anti-groove envelops and morphs into a mysterious pulse that allows all improvisation around it to be open and responsive without the direct need for anyone to respond to patterns or strict meter. There is a highly abstract force at work that operates like a study of touch, or intuitive response might be another way of putting it.

An event release and such an inspiring listen at least what I have heard so far First Time Out: Live at Slugs 1967 I have never heard at all before today and I am blown away all over again on these samples not because it is pristine audio because it isn't [they are from private tapes belonging to Ali who died in 2009] but because of its emotional impact, a painterly serenity sweeping over its entirety, Ali with a soliloquising Dewey Johnson (trumpet); Ramon Morris (tenor saxophone); Stanley Cowell (piano) and Reggie Johnson (bass).

According to the issuing label, Survival Records (via rashiedali.og): ''This obscure appearance may have been only the second time that Ali had led a band in public… the tunes they play predate all known segments of Rashied’s career as a composer or bandleader.'' SG