Essays New albums

Future of Jazz: Part Two, Vijay

Now on to the Vijay Iyer trio and their new album “Accelerando“. If you haven’t been paying close attention, the Vijay Iyer trio, consisting of Vijay, Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums, made quite a splash back in 2009 with the release of their album “Historicity“. In the time since, they’ve been in high demand as a touring group, and with good reason. “Historicity” was a pretty captivating album and “Accelerando” delivers just as its predecessor did. If, perhaps, lacking the element of surprise that “Historicity” had, the new album is, if anything, an even better, even more tightly constructed work.

If I felt that the recent Robert Glasper album was a surprisingly static affair, and unfortunately so, I cannot make the same criticism of Vijay. If anything, the Vijay Iyer Trio is a group with an overabundance of dynamism. Part of what makes the group so fascinating is simply the way in which the band members interact with each other. As a group they largely eschew the traditional model of melody-somebody solos-somebody else solos-melody-the end for a much more nuanced approach. One moment one member of the band will be up front, the next somebody else will suddenly step forward and take the lead; ‘solos’ will blend together in such a way that sometimes it’s hard to tell where one person’s solo begins and another’s ends.

I think part of the appeal of the Trio comes from this non-traditional dynamic; they have carved out a musical space and feel that is nothing if not unique. There willingness to do versions of popular music might add a certain novelty as well, but even if you were unaware of the covers, you could not deny that the trio has has worked hard on their aesthetic as a band and crafted these albums. Vijay’s desire to do something new and different goes beyond covers. As a composer, he really pushes the envelope. The title track of the album is so named because, through an aural trick wherein each instrument is accelerating in a way offset from the others, it sounds like it is constantly accelerating. It’s a surprisingly successful effect. NPR has posted a live take of one of the new tracks to youtube, a song called “Actions Speak”, which is great, but it’s actually the song that might most read like a traditional jazz song, with clearly delineated solos. I wish there was a version of their take on the Henry Trheadgill song “Little Pocket Size Demons” up there.

This track does serve to highlight for a moment the drumming of Marcus Gilmore. I’ve mentioned him in the past, and I find I only like his drumming more as time goes on. There’s a real lyricality to a lot of his drumming. He has some particularly impressive work on “Little Pocket Size Demons”.

“Accelerando” also excels as a well crafted unit. It is an album that can be put on on track 1 and listened all the way to the end with no diminishment of enjoyment. While it may not seem like much to say that an album can be listened all the way through, in my experience, albums with no bad tracks, on which every track adds something, are a rarity. This is one of those rare albums. A great album.

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