(Soundbite of music)


Jazz pianist Vijay Iyer had a breakout year in 2009. His trio album, "Historicity," topped many year-end best-of lists, and he was named Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalists' Association. All that attention has created high expectations for the 38-year-old pianist's latest work, which is called "Solo."

Tom Moon has our review.

TOM MOON: Vijay Iyer has just been anointed as a next bright hope of jazz, and what does he do? He begins his first-ever solo piano collection with a calm, sometimes almost New Age-y reinvention of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature."

(Soundbite of song, "Human Nature")

MOON: Naturally, the "Thriller" hit undergoes some changes along the way. Check out this agitated rhythm that rises up after a few minutes.

(Soundbite of song, "Human Nature")

MOON: This accessible little bonbon, which some purists would dismiss as a crossover move, offers a peek into the mind of Vijay Iyer. Like many of his peers, the pianist and composer grew up listening to all kinds of music.

He encountered jazz as a teenager in the not exactly golden age of the 1980s, when its practitioners were busy either upholding tradition or smashing it to unlistenable smithereens.

Since moving to New York from the Bay Area in 1998, he's sought his own path. His small-group albums are distinguished by appealingly jagged melodies and surging polyrhythms. He's ported those traits over to the solo setting.

Listen to the sharply angled chords he uses to set up Thelonius Monk's "Epistrophy."

(Soundbite of song, "Epistrophy")

MOON: Vijay Iyer took just two days to record this solo work. And after that, he spent many more thinking about how the individual pieces might fit together. He visited old-fashioned Harlem stride and free improvisation and many styles in between, and it all forms a map of his piano universe.

The CD starts with four cover tunes, then offers four strikingly varied originals. Here's one of them.

(Soundbite of music)

MOON: If you listen to this album in sequence, one thing you notice is how Vijay Iyers distinct sense of rhythm somehow shapes each piece, blurring points on the jazz timeline and making old war horses sound like brand new thoughts.

We know from the Michael Jackson cover that this guy is curious about life beyond the jazz cloister. Whats impressive about Solo is the way he uses rhythm, his own spirited, internal rhythm to nudge Michael Jackson and Duke Ellington and Sun Ra towards an entirely natural sounding common ground.

NORRIS: The latest album from Vijay Iyer is called "Solo." Our music critic is Tom Moon.

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