Vijay Iyer - Solo
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Thankfully, the title is the only unimaginative part of this and with what I said about Historicity (acclaimed by the New York Times as “best jazz album 2009”), it would be easy to concentrate on the cover version on Solo, so I will.
If you’re not familiar with Iyer, it’s not karaoke. His jazz style that is a fantastic mix of hard and subtle and ‘Human Nature’ is him at his best (with trio or solo); why why, them ‘em that is human nature, why why does he do me that way, I like livin’ this way. This is a real tribute to the King of Pop.
It’s tricky to move on from this one but when you think about jazz pianist, arguably top of your list will be Thelonious Monk. You’ve got to be pretty sure about your own state of mind to cover one of his compositions and when you’ve played with as many jazz luminaries as Iyer has (he’s only 39) his been influenced by some of the best whilst you can almost hear a Monk/Iyer hybrid on ‘Epistrophy’ (perhaps worth mentioning at this point that the recording by co producer Cookie Marencro, in San Francisco, is a big contribution to the sound of the album).
The comparison with another jazz composer/pianist Andrew Hill has been made before but he’s surprisingly included two tracks by Duke Ellington. All the arrangements are by Iyer and ‘Black & Tan Fantasy’ is as close to stride as you get on here (apparently he’s been playing this song since he was 14) and so as to cover jazz piano’s range, jazz standard ‘Darn That Dream’ (Van Heusen/Delange) has half a foot in the piano lounge.
Getting back to Ellington, although as an aside, Rhino released a 5 CD set in the Original Album Series last year that shows that there was more to him than just the big band sound. And Iyer’s version of ‘Fleurette Africaine’ is so tremendous; like staring out to sea on the West Coast as far as the eye can see with a little African flower just visible on the horizon.
The other cover is by another one of his heroes/mentors Steve Coleman. ‘Games’ has that spirit that he takes into his five original tracks that are like a suite in themselves. The cinematic/classical music tenancies in his playing come out on ‘Desiring’, ‘Patterns’ is deep Reich-like at times whilst on ‘Autoscopy’ (the out-of-body experience of watching yourself) can he see himself as Cecil Taylor?
Iyer is one of our favourite modern pianist (in the Robert Glasper and Robert Mitchell bracket) and there are not that many that have pulled off the solo piano jazz album; but if you’ve recently been named 2010 Musician Of The Year in the Jazz Journalists Association Annual Jazz Awards, you’re going to better at it than most.
As good as the CD starts, it also closes on a high as Iyer has written ‘One For Blount’ (as Jerry Dammers will know, Herman Poole Blount is more widely recognised as Sun Ra) and it’s trademark Iyer in heavy hammer mode.
The last time Iyer was in the UK was at the Vortex and he’s not going to back for a whilse as he’s busy gigging at Festivals both in North America and Europe so catch him if you can as I predict Solo is likely to be named as Jazz album of 2010 more than once!
Reviewed: Vijay Iyer - Solo (ACT) Cat. No. ACT 9497-2 Release date: 23rd August 2010 Notes: Cover art: 1992 by Anish Kapoor, by permission of the artist and Lissen Gallery.
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