Friday, April 25, 2008

Vijay Iyer Reimagines The Jazz Quartet With "Tragicomic"

Alright, it's over. Robert Glasper and Jason Moran- both of whom brilliant young piano players- should know this already; Glasper's only released three albums as a leader, and Jason Moran hasn't come out with a new disc since early 2006's "Artist in Residence." In case there was ever any kind of question, this is Vijay Iyer's decade, much like the 90's belonged to Brad Mehldau. Ever since 2003's "Blood Sutra," Iyer has released a string of brilliant albums ("In What Language," "Reimagining," "Still Life With Commentator," "Raw Materials," and now "Tragicomic), of which there is no "best;" each one is different from the last but also more similar to the others than to anything else in jazz (or pop for that matter). The fact that "Tragicomic" belongs on a level with those other six albums is only proof of how great it is.

Out of all of those albums, "Tragicomic" has the most in common with "Reimagining," which should be no surprise given the fact that "Reimagining" is also, for the most part, a quartet album, albeit one with a handful of trio tracks, and a single tune on solo piano. That said, "Tragicomic" is a much darker, freer, and more violent record than "Reimagining," and brims with the topical anger of "In What Language" and "Still Life with Commentator" (one of the songs on "Tragicomic" is called "Macaca Please," after Virginian George Allen's now historic slur). A key to Iyer's success, like on all of the other albums, is alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. Mahanthappa plays the saxophone the way a rioter uses a cinder-block; he plays it angrily, loudly, and violently. Just listening to his playing on "Macaca Please," or "Machine Days," or on "Without Lions," in which he trades lines with Iyer much like the duo's collaboration on the "Raw Materials" album, sends chills down my spine.

The one solo piano track on "Tragicomic," "I'm All Smiles," begins as a jaunty waltz, and ends in a much darker territory; the first few choruses sound like a lost standard from Bill Evans' Village Vanguard sessions, but Iyer finishes by pedaling a tone with his right hand while his left hand moves through the murkier lower range of the piano. All in all, the track is a good microcosm of the album in that passages of staggering beauty are all eventually consumed by violence; the ethereal opener "The Weight of Things" is followed by the frenetic "Macaca Please;" "Threnody," a song I've already blogged at length about, moves from stately solo piano to freely moving beautiful chords to a brilliant spastic freakout by Mahanthappa.

"Tragicomic" may well be the best jazz album of the year. I know its too early to call something like that, but it will probably take much more than a Wynton Marsalis song cycle ("He and She") based on the relationships between a man and a woman or a Return to Forever reunion record (if it materializes; soon to be blogged about) to beat it, and heavy hitters like Brad Mehldau and Kurt Rosenwinkel have already laid their cards out on the table. Iyer is a force to be reckoned with, and he proves that for the seventh time this decade with "Tragicomic."

Also, I made a deal with my friends Sarah and Eric that if they plugged me on their blog or radio show I'd plug them on mine, so here goes: if your inclination is indie pop, check out broken loveseats; if your inclination is sound representation through colour, check out synesthesia vacation on Fridays from 12-2 pm.


karthika said...

very nice.....

Villu stills,songs

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