Vijay Iyer is a busy man. When he isn’t teaching at Harvard University, or pursuing his PhD in physics, he’s assuming his day job as one of jazz music’s most in-demand pianists in the modern day. His recent performance residency at The Met Breuer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new building dedicated to contemporary and modern art, proved his depth as musician along with his dedication to the art of improv.
Over the course of the month-long project, titled Relation, Iyer curated a number of groups to play music for a 60-person capacity room during regular museum hours. Some of the patrons were avid jazz fans, others were merely museum-goers curiously sucked into the lobby line. Each performance was roughly 45 minutes long, and no two sounded exactly the same. Sometimes it was pure improv, other times he was playing his own compositions that have brought him to jazz festivals and concert halls around the globe. The one common thread – from the ten performances I saw – was the high level of musicianship on stage and appreciation by listeners. It was silent in there as each note meticulously fell from the instruments onto the careful ears of the listener. This is music on display in its highest form, simply put.
The music itself sounded a variety of ways, depending on which lineup you caught. When he was with DJ Val-Inc (drum pads) and Elena Pinderhughes (flute), it was explorative, beat-driven, and jungle-esque. When he encountered German composer Hans Tutschku, it was spacey and meditative. His work with the trio was true to their sound, which most currently is dark and dizzying, unified under the influence of breakbeats (the last trio record was titled Break Stuff not because he’s violent, but because of break beats). With Tirtha, he collaborates with guitarist Prasanna and tablist Nitin Mitta, and together they create a one-of-a-kind sound that is equal parts airy, percussive, and inherently Indian. Alongside Craig Taborn, the two stretched the boundaries of what one can expect from improvised piano duets. Whenever one stepped in to the gallery it was a unique experience, and more often than not it was exquisitely breathtaking.
Relation concluded, ultimately, with two performances by Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith as a duo. Together, the two recently released A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke, which is winning over critics both inside and outside of the jazz world. The two will tour on the release throughout the summer. You can purchase the album here, and if you dig it, definitely go catch Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith live.
~ Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith In Concert ~ March 30-31 – New York, NY – Metropolitan Museum of Art Breuer Building April 1 – Knoxville, TN – Big Ears Festival April 7 – Cambridge, MA – Fromm Concert Series at Harvard April 15 – Los Angeles, CA – Occidental College April 16 – Fullerton, CA – Cal State Fullerton April 23 – Washington, DC – Capital Bop Series – Abramson Family Auditorium June 25 – Pittsburgh, PA – Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival