Vijay Iyer: Historicity (2009)
Pianist Vijay Iyer's compositions are ferociously paced and fractured with a sense of urgency that informs each note he plays. Historicity's title track opens the record, grabbing the listener immediately with the pianist's unique touch, carrying through on other original compositions such as "Helix"a ballad on the surface that explodes midway through with frenetic energy. This energy is also felt on his interpretations of other composers. Standouts include his 'versioning' of M.I.A.'s "Galang," which utilizes rhythmic phrases to retain the texture of the original while adding harmonic complexity to the periphery of the piece, reminiscent of Christopher O'Riley's orchestrally full interpretations of Radiohead songs.
Iyer tackles soul legend Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother" with equal confidence. Drumming prodigy Marcus Gilmore's heavily percussive beats lay the foundation for the leader's lower register mayhem, occasionally supplemented with a select upper register melody, highlighting the funk of the original while leaving space for improvisation. This feeling is carried over in Julius Hemphill's masterpiece "Dogon A.D.," structured around Stephan Crump's simple and powerful bass line. Two-thirds of the way through the piece Crump goes into a wonderfully expressive bowed solo to add a twinge of melancholy to the already full spectrum of sound.
Iyer's trio handles these modern classics with aplomb but are a little less successful tackling the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim classic, "Somewhere" from West Side Story. They dig into it with the same energy that makes the rest of the record such a joy to listen to, but in the process miss some of the subtleties and complexities of the work. It'd be nice to have a bit of a breather to break up the intensity, but there's no denying the talent and precision that Iyer, Crump and Gilmore bring to this session.
Track Listing: Historicity; Somewhere; Galang; Helix; Smoke Stack; Big Brother; Dogon A.D.; Mystic Brew; Trident: 2010; Segment for Sentiment #2.
Personnel: Vijay Iyer: piano; Stephen Crump: bass; Marcus Gilmore: drums.