Vijay Iyer with Wadada Leo Smith and Rudresh Mahanthappa

Posted on in Art + Soul by Roy Strassman

Outward Duets at SFJazz, February 9, 2017

An appreciative audience was treated to a fine evening of pure and pristine music—pure in that it was unsullied by even a hint of commercial concern, and pristine in that it was flawlessly performed. The principal, pianist/composer/writer Vijay Iyer, is a recent MacArthur fellow and current Harvard professor. Wadada Leo Smith, avant-garde trumpeter, is known for his work primarily with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, John Zorn, and Anthony Braxton. Rudresh Mahanthappa has been awarded multiple accolades by Down Beat critics and is highly acclaimed in jazz circles.

The first set featured the duo of Messrs. Iyer and Smith. Their musical soundscape was both minimalist and spacious, but always with a sly hint of swing. Smith displayed breathtaking control of his trumpet while producing plethora of unearthly sounds. One could easily imagine being on a strange planet in a distant solar system. It was not surprising to later learn that the piece was titled “Cosmic Rhythm.”

The second set, by Mssrs. Iyer and Mahanthappa, was an exciting excursion into South Asian and Middle Eastern tonality overlaid onto an outré jazz setting. Mr. Iyer responded creatively to the simple but catchy leitmotifs set by Mr. Mahanthappa. Rich as their interplay was, Mahanthappa captured the evening with a magnetic display of dazzling virtuosity, his Coltrane-like sheets of sound consummating with a silken flourish—like a Louis XIV cognac after a fine meal.


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