Header Quote

"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
— Louis Armstrong

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vijay Iyer's SOLO: Brilliant Unadorned Jazz Piano

The notion of a young jazz pianist covering Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" doesn't immediately sit well with me.  Miles Davis pulled off his minimalist version of the tune in the 1980s, not long after he did such a great job with the Cyndi Lauper hit "Time After Time," and it worked.  But recreating that seems like an unnecessary idea.

But Vijay Iyer is not about to copy someone else—I should have known that.

On his first solo piano recording, SOLO (my PopMatters review is up today), Iyer turns "Human Nature" into an utterly original thing: a highly patterned exercise that reinvents the tune without ruining its charms.  And he manages the same magic with Monk's "Epistrophy" and a couple of Ellington tunes.  At the same time, he offers a program of original compositions that move with a thrilling wheel-within-a-wheel action—swirls of patterns and flurries, sometimes sounding atonal like Cecil Taylor but other times have the beautiful repetitions of Steve Reich.  It's an utterly original jazz piano conception.

But, thrillingly, it has roots too.  Iyer plays a tune by his old boss, saxophonist Steve Coleman, and shows how his sometimes sterile-sounding music informs Iyer's own.  And Iyer's touch with the Ellington and Monk gets at enough stride piano and ballad piano history to let you feel where these new sounds have come from.

This is one of the best jazz records of 2010.

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