Iyer on Fire

Posted on in Art + Soul by Roy Strassman

Vijay Iyer duos
@SFJazz, Miner Auditorium, Jan. 18, 2018

Vijay Iyer, a musical force majeure, has been breaking new ground not only in the sharpened realm of cutting-edge jazz, but also wherever his musical gaze happens to alight. Previously reviewed in this column two years ago, his music has traversed mega-parsecs and numerous galaxies since then.

Iyer, a Yale graduate in mathematics and physics, also holds an interdisciplinary PhD in Technology and the Arts from UC Berkeley. In addition to his music-making career, he is a chaired professor of music at Harvard. He has won numerous awards and accolades as a musician, composer, bandleader, and educator—among them a MacArthur “genius” grant.

Vijay Iyer
Vijay Iyer

This evening featured four evocative duets on two opposing Steinways. All seemed to have some sort of pre-arranged motif—loosely defined. The first duo was Iyer and Kris Davis—a highly sought-after Canadian avantgarde pianist. They began by exchanging soft, sparse single-note lines upon which they kept building until reaching a climax, then dénouement and closing.

The other three duets, all uniquely engaging, were similarly structured, though the interplay differed vastly throughout. The dazzling second duo featured Davis and acclaimed critics’ favorite pianist/composer Craig Taborn.

Iyer and Taborn reigned for the remaining duets. The contrast between their styles was dramatic, but exquisitely balanced. Tabor favors block chords, using his whole body to mount a fierce attack reminiscent of McCoy Tyner’s left hand tours de force. Iyer always electrifies when he channels his inner Cecil Taylor.

Vijay Iyer is proving to be a watershed musical voice in this still-young century; his works have already effected a break with many traditional jazz structures. Only Coltrane so greatly changed the course of jazz—and that was nearly 60 years ago. Iyer is a young giant and still growing. Don’t miss him!


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