Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far From Over (2017)

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After a trio of ECM dates in quick succession — Mutations, Break Stuff and the Wadada Leo Smith encounter A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke — Vijay Iyer’s stint with the label at this juncture had been marked largely by interesting diversions from his main artistic path. Finally recording a three-horn sextet that he had first convened and performed with live at least since 2011, Far From Over (August 25, 2017, ECM Records) signals a logical new direction for the pianist, composer and recipient of MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

Carrying over his long-time bassist Stephan Crump from his groundbreaking Vijay Iyer Trio, Iyer exchanges Marcus Gilmore for the equally dynamic Tyshawn Sorey and adds a murderer’s row of horn players also from the leader’s generation: Graham Haynes on cornet and flugelhorn, Steve Lehman on alto sax and Mark Shim on tenor sax.

Iyer’s mastery of making melody, harmony and rhythmic work together like a finely tuned machine, if anything, has grown since those career-defining trio records like Historicity and Accelerando. Starting with “Poles,” he demonstrates how to leverage a three-horn line by making it an extra zone of activity where all the components are put together in parallel with Iyer’s own counterpoint on piano and later, Fender Rhodes. “Far From Over” is not avant-garde in its chord changes but it is in its energetic attack (Iyer on piano and Sorey hold nothing back) and still sport rich complexities.

Iyer grew up with a healthy appreciation for RnB, which shows up in the slow groovin’ “Nope,” one of the most instantly engaging songs he’s made so far. The horns play in a funky style to fit the mood, and Haynes in particular thrives in the pocket.

Haynes introduces electronic effects and elongated notes to “End Of The Tunnel.” Cast against Iyer’s mystical Rhodes figures, this recalls Miles’ fusion experiments of the late 60s/early 70s, but unlike Miles of that period, this promising piece is very short instead of very long. “Down To The Wire” goes a few years further back on the jazz timeline, evoking the radically modern jazz around the middle of the 60s. Iyer’s ginormous chops are out in full here, and Shim’s tenor sax exhibits a powerful counterweight.

The band is reduced to a trio for “For Amiri Baraka,” a bell shaped song that begins gently, arcing up to an almost rock stomp and quickly diminishes to a soft landing. “Into Action” rides on a propulsive beat and Iyer’s thematic figures give plenty for the horn section to exploit, while Haynes’ sonically altered flugelhorn resonates on “Wake,” floating high above Iyer’s gurgling Rhodes.

After a being nearly absent of “Wake,” Sorey returns with a vengeance for “Good On The Ground,” his driving beats the focal around which everyone oscillates. Shim engages in lively exchanges with the full trio of horns and then he settles into a full solo. The overall intensity subsides somewhat but Sorey can’t be contained and Iyer seems pushed by him to take his own game up a notch.

Iyer puts on a passionate showcase for the first third of the closing act “Threnody,” handing off to Lehman’s alto sax which is altogether breathtaking and imposing over its nearly four-minute run.

By not limiting himself within a narrow concept and exploiting a multiple of possibilities presented by the larger sextet, Vijay Iyer’s variety of tactics benefit Far From Over, making this an insightful window into his wide-ranging capabilities.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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