Vijay Iyer trio, Break Stuff, ECM

From 2015. A working trio for 11 years Iyer here once again recording with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore. This Manfred Eicher-produced affair recorded in New York in June last year includes a rhythmically engrossing tribute in …

Published: 13 Nov 2019. Updated: 11 months.

From 2015. A working trio for 11 years Iyer here once again recording with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore.

This Manfred Eicher-produced affair recorded in New York in June last year includes a rhythmically engrossing tribute in ‘Hood’ to techno DJ/producer Robert Hood – a track that plays the same transformative role on Break Stuff as ‘Galang (Trio Riot Version)’ did in a different idiom on Historicity.

The title of Break Stuff refers to what pianist/composer Iyer describes, more obliquely than at first glance, is contained in the “break” as “the basis for breakdowns, break-beats, and break dancing… the moment when everything comes to life.” There may not be a lot of dance potential on this highly complex album where there’s no obvious beat – it’s all about flow – but certainly there is a sense of the unexpected in the jagged pauses, weighted phrases, tiny deafening silences, and runaway momentum of the material on the album some of which was premiered at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and some from Open City, a collaboration with writer Teju Cole.

Of the historical material Thelonious Monk tune ‘Work’ gets a look-in as well sounding fairly unMonk-like, a feat in itself, and there is also an excellent solo piano version of Strayhorn piece ‘Blood Count.’ The version of Coltrane’s ‘Countdown’ coming towards the end is elaborately introduced and unrecognisable to begin with, the interpretation itself delayed teasingly, the essence of the tune eventually captured very rewardingly.

Last year Iyer switched to ECM releasing Mutations, his first album for the label, a slightly elusive electro-acoustic chamber work shaped around a 10-part suite scored for string quartet, piano, and electronics. While that album sat firmly in the New Music and ‘contemporary classical’ domain tangentially retaining jazz-flavoured elements the long ‘Mutations’ suite was actually quite old music first performed in 2005. The music on Break Stuff is more recent and more jazz-grounded picking up where Accelerando left off. It's also more about the here and now, a state-of-the-art jazz piano trio album. No one sounds like them.

And If you think how different the 2013 collaboration with Mike Ladd, Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project sounds or in vivid contrast the recent Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi “magical realist” side to Iyer’s music, it’s easy to understand how fertile a musical imagination Iyer possesses and that is in these instances away from the talismanic unity of the trio. Yet this facility of imagination is also his and the trio’s strength particularly in performance whether in the studio or live: the unit clearly going from strength to strength as the language of jazz continues to be enriched in their hands. Stephen Graham

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Phronesis, Life To Everything, Edition

From 2014. Recorded live in the Cockpit theatre at Jez Nelson’s Jazz in the Round over the course of two nights of the 2013 London Jazz Festival, the artwork to this release has a quotation from Plato on the back worth mentioning as it explains the …

Published: 13 Nov 2019. Updated: 22 months.

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From 2014. Recorded live in the Cockpit theatre at Jez Nelson’s Jazz in the Round over the course of two nights of the 2013 London Jazz Festival, the artwork to this release has a quotation from Plato on the back worth mentioning as it explains the title: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”

The trio are depicted in a graphics sleight of hand behind the quotation hidden partially in shadow and presumably nice and dry as water streams down the window-like screen in front of them. On the front inside a kind of a globe they’re standing via the magic of a fisheye-type lens in front of what looks like modern apartment blocks; inside bassist Jasper Høiby in performance is looking towards an ecstatic-looking Anton Eger on drums while pianist Ivo Neame looks to Anton mid-note. Each of the three contribute three compositions and this material is uniformly attractive and absorbing without making compromises or indulging in gimmickry.

Phronesis first made their mark properly with Alive, another live album recorded not far away from Marylebone in Camden, but that was a little different as its drummer was future Mehliana rhythm matador Mark Guiliana although the character and shape of the music was clear. In those days the band had a stronger Avishai Cohen influence than now, although you can still hear it a bit (for instance ‘Herne Hill’) but Phronesis have their own sound which is very distinctive, exciting, New Melodic, full of individuality, sheer verve and improvisational resource that goes way beyond mere technical command although all three players have this in abundance. Rousing and refreshing anyone who likes good jazz will need to hear Life to Everything.