“Uneasy” is pianist Vijay Iyer’s seventh appearance as a leader for the ECM label, and quite possibly his most impressive to date. With Tyshawn Sorey on drums and Linda May Han Oh on bass, this characterful trio navigates from one shape-shifting idea to another, magnificently working their magic on eight Iyer originals, composed over a span of twenty years, along with Cole Porter’s classic “Night and Day” and Geri Allen’s “Drummer Song”.
One thing that strikes me immediately whilst listening to this remarkable album, is the outpouring of human energy from the trio, manifesting itself in the performance of each and every one of these tunes. Lending the album its title, UnEasy was originally the name of a dance project, coordinated between Iyer and choreographer Karole Armitage’s dance company in 2011. “Uneasy” builds on the paradox the title implies and takes up the underlying atmosphere of the threat it alludes to – a decade after and ten years deeper into a world and time of unrest. And certainly, the political and social turbulences dominating today’s American landscape are reflected so brilliantly here. It’s as if Iyer is somehow able, through his inquiring, powerful music, to shine a light on the world in which we live, profoundly revealing so many truths that are often hidden in the shadows of daily life.
There’s a deep, immersive, compelling nature to the music here. A set of tunes that seem intent on attracting opposites. Beauty juxtaposed with monstrousness. In his liner notes, Iyer elaborates on how today “the word ‘uneasy’ feels like a brutal understatement, too mild for cataclysmic times. But maybe, since the word contains its own opposite, it reminds us that the most soothing, healing music is often born of and situated within profound unrest: and conversely, the most turbulent music may contain stillness, coolness, even wisdom.”
The album’s opener “Children of Flint” has a rhythmic urgency to it that flows effortlessly through its essence of immediacy. The song is dedicated to children hailing from Flint, a town near Detroit that encountered a tragic poisoning of the water supply, leading to widespread health issues for thousands of children. “Combat Breathing”, initially written in the wake of the first Black Lives Matter protests in 2014, clearly demonstrates the trio’s dynamic capabilities… edge of your seat music if ever there was such a thing. The interpretation of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” is stunning, enjoying a freshly fuelled life-force all of its own. “Touba” reminds me of Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette on top form. Meditative and yet somehow compellingly urgent, the tune’s dark, tempered spirit is a joy to behold. Geri Allen’s “Drummer Song” has a wonderfully light and airy feel to it, musical tiptoeing leading the listener into some effervescent expression from the trio. The solo, contemplative piano on “Augury” captures my imagination with its sophisticated, beautiful atmosphere. The threesome tap into a more exploratory spirit on “Configurations”, a tune adapted here for the trio, having originally been recorded for the pianist’s 2001 album “Panoptic Modes”. The title track hints at an instability, a tense, worrying moment in time that is so well reflected in this piece. “Retrofit”, originally composed for sextet in 2019, revels in its stripped-down format, allowing each musician to shine. The fabulous closing piece “Entrustment” raises the hairs on the back of my neck. As the tune gradually builds, the power of the drums, bass and piano combining is mouth-watering, leaving a lasting effect on me long after the tune has finished.
Timely, invigorating, inspirational jazz that is rewarding on so many levels doesn’t come along on too many occasions each year. This album, for me, stands out as one of the finest ECM releases in recent times. Living, breathing, captivating music from a trio that ignites a spellbinding musical passion with their indomitable spirit and intensity.
Vijay Iyer Sextet ‘Far From Over’ LP/CD (ECM) 4/5
Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith ‘A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke’ CD (ECM) 4/5
Vijay Iyer and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) ‘Radhe Radhe. Rites of Holi’ DVD or Blue Ray (ECM) 4/5
Vijay Iyer ‘Mutations’ CD (ECM) 4/5