Pianist Vijay Iyer Combines Complicated Rhythms With Modern Style On 'Far From Over' Iyer studied physics and mathematics before becoming a professional musician in the 1990s. He composes music for an ensemble of interdisciplinary composers and jazz academics on his new album.
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Pianist Vijay Iyer Combines Complicated Rhythms With Modern Style On 'Far From Over'

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Pianist Vijay Iyer Combines Complicated Rhythms With Modern Style On 'Far From Over'

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Music Reviews

Pianist Vijay Iyer Combines Complicated Rhythms With Modern Style On 'Far From Over'

Pianist Vijay Iyer Combines Complicated Rhythms With Modern Style On 'Far From Over'

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Iyer studied physics and mathematics before becoming a professional musician in the 1990s. He composes music for an ensemble of interdisciplinary composers and jazz academics on his new album.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Pianist Vijay Iyer studied physics and mathematics before becoming a professional musician in the 1990s. And he composes music for diverse ensembles, including chamber groups and his own trio. Iyer's new album is for a jazz sextet. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIJAY IYER SEXTET'S "POLES")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Pianist Vijay Iyer from his new album "Far From Over." The three horns, three rhythm format echoes Art Blakey's or Cannonball Adderley's classic hard bop sextets. But Iyer's composing is more rhythmically complicated in the modern style. He'll stack off-center beats and looping figures on top of each other until they spin or slide apart. Then he'll prune that thicket back to make room for improvised solos, the spontaneous content that lets the music breathe.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIJAY IYER SEXTET'S "INTO ACTION")

WHITEHEAD: Graham Haynes on cornet, who gets a splendid showcase in Vijay Iyer's sextet. The pianist, bassist Stephan Crump and miracle drummer Tyshawn Sorey play together a lot in various combinations. They can circle around each other or lock in on the beat. On Iyer's funk tune "Nope," the horns use the rhythm trio's groove like a trampoline. Steve Lehman and Mark Shim are on saxophones and Iyer on electric piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIJAY IYER SEXTET'S "NOPE")

WHITEHEAD: That rhythm trio can also function as a cross-talking percussion choir, using oblique strategies to support a soloist. Behind tenor sax on "Good On The Ground," drummer Sorey breaks up the big beat rhythm, Iyer plays Morse code piano and Crump's bass is a talking drum, none of which fazes Mark Shim on tenor.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIJAY IYER SEXTET'S "GOOD ON THE GROUND")

WHITEHEAD: Vijay Iyer says his compositions begin with the groove and sometimes the beat stands out more than the tune. One catchy melody crops up on the piece "Far From Over." Steve Lehman's torrid alto and a slinky, descending line make it sound like one of Miguel Zenon's Latin ballots. But then composer Iyer puts his spin on it, breaks it up and changes the feel on the repeats, transforming that line step by audible step.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIJAY IYER SEXTET'S "FAR FROM OVER")

WHITEHEAD: Half of these players are interdisciplinary composers and jazz academics. Vijay Iyer teaches at Harvard, Tyshawn Sorey at Wesleyan and Steve Lehman at Cal Arts. What Iyer does here, applying his compositional savvy to a standard combo lineup, is like the challenge some writers of academic prose take on, to express complex ideas in familiar language so even non-experts can follow along.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIJAY IYER SEXTET'S "NOPE")

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and TONE Audio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Far From Over," the new recording by the Vijay Iyer Sextet on the ECM label. Coming up, a review of the first book published by Lena Dunham's imprint. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLARK TERRY'S "IMPULSIVE")

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