NPR logo First Listen: Vijay Iyer Trio, 'Accelerando'

First Listen: Vijay Iyer Trio, 'Accelerando'

Listen To 'Accelerando' In Its Entirety

Tonight's concert will begin at 7 p.m. ET.

Vijay Iyer Trio's new album, Accelerando, comes out March 13. Jimmy Katz hide caption

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Jimmy Katz

Vijay Iyer Trio's new album, Accelerando, comes out March 13.

Jimmy Katz

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The musical directive "accelerando" means what it looks like it ought to: Play faster. It lends its name to the new trio album from composer and pianist Vijay Iyer, and to its ninth track, where the tempo speeds up, resets, speeds up, resets, speeds up, resets, and so forth. The result is a sort of hypnosis; your brain may not be able to precisely enumerate the arithmetic of it all, but your head figures out how to nod to the constantly changing pulse. Surprisingly — or perhaps not — Iyer actually wrote this variable-tempo piece for a dance company.

As Iyer might point out, humans naturally process rhythm as movement, as dance. It's one of the big ideas which gives jazz its mystery and magic. That might be a good opportunity to mention that the last Vijay Iyer Trio album was the jazz critics' consensus album of the year in 2009; this band generates a lot of fascinating rhythms.

But jazz has no monopoly on the concept. As Iyer writes in the liner notes, "this album is in the lineage of American creative music based on dance rhythms." So Michael Jackson ("Human Nature") is obviously fair game for a cover, as is the late-'70s/early-'80s disco band Heatwave ("The Star of a Story"). The electronic musician Flying Lotus and his virtuoso singing bass guitarist Thundercat are represented with their 2010 jam "MmmHmm." The pianist and composer Herbie Nichols ("Wildflower") went largely ignored in his own time, but not here. Reedman Henry Threadgill is still around, and he advised on the translation of his gleefully ungainly "Little Pocket Size Demons." A few more Iyer originals showcase his distinctively spiky sonorities. And Duke Ellington, who knew a thing or two about transcending idiom, wrote the closing number "The Village of the Virgins" for a ballet.

Accelerando (out March 13) is also a record of heavy grooves in flux, of improvising against one other, of driving instruments to their extremes. If this all sounds like a lot to ask of just piano, acoustic bass and drum set, it is. That's part of the appeal, hearing bassist Stephan Crump violently wrest the bow or drummer Marcus Gilmore slam, feather, crosshatch, overlay. The other part is sensing a band grappling with a long tradition of innovation, and risking everything to add to it.

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