Indian-American jazz pianist, Vijay Iyer, returns with an album, his fifth in total for ECM, that at once looks forward to acoustic-electronica fusions and goes all the way back to the acoustic improvisational work of the mid-1960’s Miles Davis quintet. For the former, shorter pieces such as, ‘End of the Tunnel’, indicate a clear desire to explore beyond the traditional confines of even modern jazz with the use of electronica, and having an academic background in mathematics doubtless helps stimulate the mind in diverging ways. Complex structures seem to be a defining quality of the Vijay Iyer sound, and the leader performs on Fender, in part at least, to communicate his thoughts more effectively.
However, as a whole, the feel of this all original set is the more risqué side of acoustic with a nod to the future. The slow burner, ‘Nope’, for example, has a funkier edge to it and Iyer is ably assisted by the crisp drumming of Tyshawn Sorey and the sure double bass work of Stephan Crump. Some have likened this band to a latter day take on the Jazz Messengers, and as complimentary as that may sound, even the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter did not take the music of that formation in such radical directions.
Where this recording has the edge over others previously is in the challenging brass section comprising Graham Haynes on cornet, flugelhorn and electronics, and especially Steve Lehman on alto saxophone. The presence and contribution of the latter alone is akin to having Jackie McLean from his mid-1960’s Blue Note excursions on board and that makes for some thrilling music in places. Witness the slow piano intro to ‘Poles’, where there is a staccato alto attack from Lehman, or on the driving rhythm to the title track. That said, this quintet is capable of great reflection and this is illustrated on the reposing ‘Wake’, or on the eight and half minute meditation of ‘Threnody’, where Iyer the pianist takes an expansive solo.
Vijay Iyer is ideally suited to smaller ensemble work and this writer prefers this format to his previous flirts with electronica. He has become one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary jazz.