Vijay Iyer Trio – Accelerando (2012)

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After a diversion into a piano alone venture Solo (2010), Vijay Iyer returns to his trio for Accelerando. While we might once again have a Iyer record with Stephan Crump (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums), Iyer isn’t staying put in pursuing musical strategies. Accelerando marks a progression from that excellent 2010 trio date Historicity.

Like the incisive, articulate and even-tempered Iyer that you see in the video below whose passion for artistry still bleeds through, his piano displays those same traits. In tandem with Crump and Gilmore, the trio is one of only a handful of jazz trios on the scene that is seemingly immune to the prevailing notions of how a piano/bass/drums combo should perform and follows its own path. Accelerando sets the Vijay Iyer Trio a little further apart than before. Much of the Vijay Iyer Trio’s innovations fall into the areas of rhythm and the inventiveness by which he takes on cover songs. Both of those are the same things drove Historicity to greatness, but this this time around they’re more pronounced. Iyer’s keen awareness of great melodies from unconventional sources (for a jazz musician, anyway), combines with an ability to inhabit the song and make listeners see them in a totally different light. He chooses an impressive array of solid material for covers, none of which, save for Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” are not well known, touching on sources from Heatwave to late period Duke Ellington.

In fact, tracks 3-7 is a killer sequence of other people’s songs given uniquely delightful treatments by Iyer and his band:

“The Star Of A Story” (Rod Temperton, original by Heatwave): Temperton’s tremendous gift for pop songcraft has been forgotten my most but not Iyer. An empyrean ballad as preformed by Heatwave back in 1977, Gilmore and Crump set a metronomic pulse and Iyer sprinkles arpeggios around a compelling melody.

“Human Nature (Trio Extension)” (Steve Porcaro/John Bettis, original by Michael Jackson): Iyer begins the song in much the same manner as he attacked it for his Solo long player last year, but eventually comes under the spell of Gilmore’s circular rhythmic pattern. In seemingly spur of the moment moves, he conjures up dramatic vamps first from the opening line in the verses, building up tension with Crump, and then moves on to another cresting riff built from the song’s elegant intro.

“Wildflower” (Herbie Nichols): the most “straight” jazz track on the album, this nonetheless boasts a creative arrangement, as Crump’s bass carries the harmonic load as Vijay Iyer spits out fragmented ideas that gradually become completely articulated sentences by the end of the song.

“Mmmmhmmm” (Steve Ellison/Stephen Bruner, original by Flying Lotus): The central melodic theme from avant-techno specialist Flying Lotus’ song is repeated over and over, but Iyer brings fresh perspectives to it with nearly each go around of it.

“Little Pocket Sized Demons” (Henry Threadgill): One of Threadgill’s more challenging compositions—which is saying something—is made to look (sound) easy by Iyer’s trio. Iyer’s voluminous soundprint manages to replicate the bombastic character of the two electric guitars/two tubas/French horn/alto sax/drums makeup of the original format. Crump’s scraped bass brings the demon to the proceedings at the song’s outset but the real nifty move is Iyer simultaneously improvising and carrying out the difficult melody later on. And Gilmore is explosive behind the kit.

Vijay Iyer’s own compositions deal with more abstract melodies—probably because there’s no precedent to them that anyone can use to refer to familiar points—but he and his rhythm section’s sense of tempo, flow and feel mimic the approach taken for the covers. An unsettled presence permeates “Bode,” which leads right into the odd dancing essence of “Optimism,” but it’s the title track “Accelerando” that is most interesting for its accelerating rhythm within a steady tempo.

The use of modern rhythms, imaginative arrangements, strong material and just plain, old fashioned butt kicking virtuosity makes Accelerando a strong album from nearly every aspect by which a modern jazz album can be judged. And the scary thing is, Vijay Iyer hasn’t likely reached his peak yet.

Accelerando releases on March 13, by ACT Records.

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