Wednesday, March 21, 2012

CD Review: Vijay Iyer Trio - Accelerando

Vijay Iyer Trio

For awhile, Accelerando seemed like it was going to be the most anticipated jazz album of the year. So much so that I thought it wasn't going to be officially released for another few weeks, since I hadn't seen anything written about it around the time of its March 13 drop date. Then I remembered all the pre-release hoopla it got at the beginning of the year. Maybe that's why it hasn't popped up anywhere recently: all the hoopla already happened. Then Esperanza Spaudling's album came out yesterday, and after getting the latest JazzTimes and checking out last weekend's Sunday New York Times, it was clear that was the most anticipated album of the year. You don't see Vijay for sale on the counter at Starbucks.
Suffice to say that Accelerando has everything an Iyer head could hope for. The opening chords of "Bode" establish the eager anticipation that something is about to break here. The rubato rumbling goes on for a mere two minutes and change before it fades out. It was a savvy move on the trio's part to do this rather than fleshing it out. This piece was part of their set last year, but considering how they segued a lot together, it's hard to remember if they just used it as an interlude or a full-fledged tune.
In the press release to the album Iyer states, "There is a whole world history of groove and pulse to draw on, and we do." He references influences from Bud Powell to the Meters and the music of India and Africa. On this album the group is clearly in-the-pocket and grooving, albeit not in the traditional sense.
The idea of strange grooves appears in the title track, a three minute piece originally written for a dance performance. It's built on an unsteady time signature that tricks your ears into thinking the trio is about to accelerate into double-time, but it keeps snapping back into a riff. (The title "Accelerando" almost feels like red herring, or sarcasm.) Chordally, it's a pretty straightforward, playing a similar rhythm over a descending progression, but the trio brings a lot of intensity to it.
A different groove happens in the wide open middle section of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature," originally a solo vehicle for the pianist which here gets stretched out to over nine minutes, the longest track on the album. Instead of vamping to get listeners in a party mood, Iyer, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore toy with the riff. It begins when Crump starts adding comments with a funky 4/4 over the flowing rhythm of the head. Gilmore shifts into something subtle that sounds like it shouldn't conjoin with Crump, but it does. Next thing you know, Iyer has set down the changes and taken it somewhere else, kind of vamping but also soloing. When it reaches a climax, everyone steps back towards the theme, but not before Crump plucks some upper register comments.
"Human Nature" comes in the midst of a set of disparate interpretations, following "The Star of a Story" by the '70s R&B band Heatwave ("Always and Forever," "Boogie Nights"), "Wildflower" by revered-but-still-obscure bop pianist Herbie Nichols, "Mmmhmm" by producer Flying Lotus and "Little Pocket Size Demons" by Henry Threadgill.
Too often the act of combining such non-sequitur pieces comes off seeming self-conscious - an attempt to bring together listeners of different musics in some naive utopian way. Or it's a way to show off the vast expanse of their record and CD collection. It feels like that square peg is getting hammered into the round hole, with the splinters flying everywhere in the process. (If I have to use a cliche, I figure it should embellish the imagery a little.)
With Vijay Iyer, the diversity just feels natural. It's in his blood. It's in his brain. Crump and Gilmore play a big role in that too. So does Steve Coleman, probably, for expanding Iyer and Gilmore's mind with regards to rhythms and whatnot.
So yes - the most anticipated release of the year. I am curious to hear what Esperanza has up her sleeve, but these guys can blow minds and make it seem easy.