Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd
Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project
Pi ****

This is a very compassionate and "real" album, and concentrates on stories that need telling over and over again. Drawing on the dreams and recollections of “veterans of colour” who fought in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it’s the most considered and powerful of pianist Iyer and poet/MC/lyricist Ladd’s work to date. Possibly not as caustic and challenging as 2003’s acclaimed In What Language, but more taut and at times moving, the piece was commissioned and premiered at Harlem Stage in New York. Ladd and theatre director Patricia McGregor interviewed veterans about what they actually want out of life, but also about how they deal in their quiet near-sleeping moments about the experiences that haunt them. So, in effect, the album is about trauma and conscience and the aftermath of war, the coming to terms with the horror of what all these veterans went through.

Recorded a few months before the live performance last autumn the written contributions and vocals of Maurice Decaul, who served with the Marines in Iraq, and Air Force servicewoman Lynn Hill, who piloted drones in Afghanistan from a far remote US base, are at the heart of an album powered by a band that includes hip-hop drummer Kassa Overall (also known for his work with Geri Allen), cellist Okkyung Lee, guitarist Liberty Ellman, and vocalist Guillermo E. Brown. Ladd’s voice has a compelling authority to it throughout while Iyer, who has written all the music and also plays Fender and uses Ableton Live processing effects, is found in a very different context to his solo records as the structures are more like expansive well designed hip hop-friendly songs you'd hear on the radio with the improvising here and there peeking through on a track such as the affecting ‘Requiem for an Insomniac’. Lynn Hill’s role is vital and on a track such as ‘Capacity’ the anger boiling up explodes in one of the most hard-hitting tracks. It’s an album about "dreaming in colour" that the nightmare can end somehow and that ‘normalcy’ and peace can prevail; and yet that hope may well be in vain or at best remains unresolved. Clearly the healing has not yet begun. Stephen Graham
Released on 30 September