A cosmic rhythm with each stroke features pianist Viay Iyer and the musician he has described as his “hero, friend and teacher”, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Vijay has previously played extensively with Wadada in Smith’s Golden Quartet, but the present album is the first documentation of their duo work, produced by Manfred Eicher at New York’s Avatar Studios in October 2015. The centre-piece of the album is the spellbinding title suite, dedicated to Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990), the innovative Indian artist whose improvisatory imagery evokes abstracted rhythms.
In his liner notes to A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke, pianist/electronicist Vijay Iyer writes that while working in trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet/Quintet between 2005 and 2010, the pair often became "a unit within a unit." Evidenced by Tabligh in 2008 and Golden Quintet's half of the 2009 double-disc Spiritual Dimensions, this album (marking the trumpeter's first appearance on ECM in more than two decades) underscores that assertion via distillation. It is one of essences. It reveals the intricacies of music-making according to principles of instinct as well as close listening. Iyer's opening "Passage" is a surprise. The pianist's gently investigatory chords and thematic harmonics offer the hallmarks of a chamber piece.
Pianist Vijay Iyer leads a quartet on his third outing, featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto saxophone, Stephan Crump on bass, and Derrek Phillips on drums. Iyer's two previous releases were attempts to integrate the avant-garde, South Asian, and M-Base concepts that shaped him as a player and composer. On Panoptic Modes, Iyer continues to do this, but manages to arrive at the next level in terms of artistic focus and vision. With this new quartet music (three tracks are trio pieces), he continues to eschew the rhythmically obvious at all costs. His harmonic and formal concepts are as challenging as ever, yet his exceedingly difficult writing is rendered oddly accessible by the unperturbed facility of his band. Highlights include the brisk, rolling rhythms and animated piano/drum conversation heard on "Configurations"; the highly angular juxtaposition of melody and bassline on "Atlantean Tropes"; the dark, suggestive world of the anti-death penalty ballad "Numbers," which lasts not even two minutes; and the stirring quartet remake of "Trident" (a far slower trio version appeared on Iyer's 1998 record, Architextures). Highly recommended.
With "Reimagining," his first album for Savoy Jazz, pianist Vijay Iyer moves on up in terms of visibility – and in terms of accomplishment. This is his strongest effort yet, balancing rapturous emotion and knotty intellect, melodic flow and rhythmic heft. Iyer works here, as he usually does, with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. Mahanthappa, like Iyer an Indian-American who has mined Asian culture to rewarding effect, doesn't so much play songs as lay down shapely streams of consciousness, vamping with greater restraint and variety than he once did. Unlike many lyrically minded young pianists, Iyer is unafraid to attack the keys, but his percussive approach, marked by antic unfurling chords reminiscent of McCoy Tyner's (just as his close partnership with the instant-starting Mahanthappa is reminiscent of Tyner's with John Coltrane), has different levels of intensity. With bassist Stephan Crumb and drummer Marcus Gilmore establishing dense force fields, Iyer moves seamlessly from modal patterns to swing effects to subtle funk figures. His bands are known for their tightness and team concept and this quartet is no exception.