Spring Guide 2012: Vijay Iyer Brings Accelerando to Birdland


The phenomenon of popularity descended, without much warning, upon jazz pianist Vijay Iyer in 2009. After a decade of working in a series of well-respected bands and as a leader in his own right, the notoriously fickle Mainstream Gods decreed, in that year, to make the Indian-American musician an official Big Deal. Historicity, a record with his trio (which includes Marcus Gilmore and Stephan Crump on drums and bass, respectively), attracted glitter notices from jazz rags—but crucially, not just from the specialist press. In part, this was due to Iyer’s inspired range of covers: In addition to music by modern jazz giants like Julius Hemphill, Iyer proved he could swing M.I.A.’s “Galang” in a way that made many listeners think not just “Oh, no, he didn’t,” but also “Why didn’t someone think of this before?”

Iyer’s intuition for moves that feel both original as well as overdue finds renewed expression this season in his latest record with that same trio. Titled Accelerando and conceptually tied to that notion of rhythmic forward momentum, Iyer once again flirts with—and successfully seduces—a strange-bedfellow roster of masters: Songs associated with Michael Jackson, Duke Ellington, Flying Lotus, and Henry Threadgill all get their moments with Iyer & Co.’s love. For any listener with ambitions of staying abreast of more than the manufactured, extra-musical controversies of the pop world (cf. Chris Brown’s continued existence, Lana Del Rey’s nascent one), spending time with Accelerando should be required. And the album’s appearance so early in the calendar year makes it the jam for (not only jazz) musicians to beat during the remainder of 2012.

“I don’t know if there’s a goal to keep getting crazier and crazier or anything,” Iyer says regarding his ever-expanding aesthetic points of reference. “But there is a sense of stretching, you know? And using something radically ‘other.’ Or at least very much outside our [jazz-trio] format, as a stimulus for ourselves to reach for something maybe impossible. And maybe, in so doing, discovering something of our own.”

From April 10 through 14, Iyer’s trio will alight upon the Birdland stage to reach for those next, maybe-impossible things. The plan, according to Iyer, is to investigate their established repertoire—and also push beyond it. That means we could hear some covers—and Iyer originals—that failed to make it onto Accelerando, as well as pieces conceived or adapted after its recording. “I made this piece called ‘Hood,’ which is dedicated to Robert Hood, the Detroit techno pioneer. . . . I had written this piece for my sextet, the trio plus three horns, and then extracted the rhythm parts and made it a rhythm-section improvisation. So we’ve been checking that out, and it’s sort of different every time we play it.”

Iyer says that at the moment, the band is less focused on the you-solo-then-I-solo form of jazz performance. Instead, a constantly in-flux strategy of mutual, simultaneous innovation prevails over Accelerando—something Iyer identifies as a by-product of the extensive touring that followed in the wake of Historicity. “This new album is a result of all that, and more about what we sound like now, after being blessed with all those opportunities. Because it’s really about test-driving ideas night after night and the process of discovery this music embodies—being improvisational music,” Iyer explains before self-censoring the rest of his thought, perhaps stopping lest he sound carried away.

“It’s not just about my music,” he then continues after a pause. “It’s true in general because it’s process-oriented. You’re kind of involving everyone in the room in that trajectory, in that process of discovery, and . . . just putting people in touch with possibility.”

It’s safe to say that the room at Birdland won’t suffer for volunteers eager to find all those possibilities for themselves when Iyer’s trio swings back through town. April 10–14, Birdland, 315 West 44th Street,

Wild Flag
April 1

Odds are if you read both the Times Magazine and New Yorker profiles of Carrie Brownstein in between looking at ads for Portlandia on every culture site on the Internet . . . that you got a little tired of hearing about Carrie Brownstein in 2011? Let that go. Because that new band she’s in, Wild Flag—with fellow Sleater-Kinney vet Janet Weiss on drums and ex-Helium mastermind Mary Timony sharing vocals and guitar duties—puts most indie-rock up-‘n’-comers to shame. Perhaps you missed the band’s first, sold-out NYC shows last year due to all that (deserved) hype? Here’s another chance. Webster Hall, 125 East 11th Street,

Bruce Springsteen
April 3, 4, 6, 9; May 2

So the Boss is back with another album. How’s the songwriting, you ask? In rather good shape, turns out! And the . . . production values? Pretty standard for his late style, which is to say radio-chasingly awful. So get thee to an arena and hope to hear the best new joints—like “Wrecking Ball” and “You’ve Got It”—trade in their studio gloss for some of Bruce’s live grit. Also: the back catalog. Izod Center, 102 State Route 120, East Rutherford, New Jersey,; Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza,; Prudential Center, 165 Mulberry Street, Newark, New Jersey,

April 10–17

OK, let’s be honest: You probably don’t have tickets for this, and you probably also know it’s totally sold-out. But when the electro-synth (or whatever your hyphenates of choice are) innovators play a residency at MOMA that is focused, chronologically, on albums one through eight, you’re morally allowed to pay Craigslist markup. There’s also some art installation stuff promised—but honestly, you’ll take whatever kind of view you can get, right? MOMA, 11 West 53rd Street,

Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson: ‘Shuffle Culture’
April 19–20

Among his half-dozen or so other music gigs in New York, the Roots’ Questlove takes a turn DJ’ing every now and again. Now BAM has given him the space and the budget to work an evening-long mix out of his Rolodex. Thus: “Shuffle Culture,” described as “a kinetic mix of songs and sounds from unexpected musical bedfellows—that celebrates and reflects our current shuffle culture.” OK, technology-cum-conceptual blah blah: check. More concretely, we’ll hear Questo playing with the likes of indie-rockers Deerhoof, avant-jazz pianist D.D. Jackson (featured on the Roots’ recent album undun) . . . and Sasha Grey for some reason! BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn,

‘The Makropulos Case’
April 27–May 11

The biggest opera house in the U.S.A. has had a bad artistic year. Shiny new Met productions have flopped, one after the other; the governing aesthetic seems to be suffering from sclerosis. But this revival of a work by Czech composer Leos Janácek—one of the 20th century’s finest, most striking operas (get thee to Wikipedia)—probably can’t miss. First of all: It’s just a great piece, the sort of modernist triumph the Met doesn’t do often enough. And this cast features Finnish soprano Karita Mattila, who has made herself a home in Janácek’s music. (People still talk about her Jenufa.) If you’re an opera newbie but a modern-art fan, this is a good choice. Nosebleed seats (where the sound is actually best) are nearly sold out for the run. But remember: There are always day-of opportunities to rush the orchestra section or snag standing-room tix. Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center Plaza,

Spring for Music
May 7–12

One of the best events to happen at Carnegie Hall last year was also one of the cheapest. Now it’s back. But because classical music has difficulty with marketing, this festival is still a little slept-on. Here’s the deal: Tickets are $25; orchestras from all over compete for a Carnegie Hall invitation by coming up with innovative programs nobody could ever sell on his or her own. So you get hungry musicians playing their asses off, all for the benefit of edgy material. That means Nashville Symphony playing a new piece by Big Boi’s favorite minimalist, Terry Riley, along with some Charles Ives. It means New Jersey Symphony playing a Kurt Weill work next to modernist heavyweight Edgard Varèse’s “Nocturnal.” It means don’t get intimidated by “classical culture” or class markers—and just go experience. Carnegie Hall, 881 Seventh Avenue,,

Ende Tymes Festival
May 17–20

Having never been before, I can’t speak to past versions of this festival—which describes itself as an “annual celebration of noise, experimental music, and video art.” But if you program minimalist drone-master Phill Niblock as a headliner, you’ve earned a certain level of respect. Ohio noisemaker Mike Shiflet should also show local would-be enfants-terrible how it’s done. Overall, this looks to be an efficient way to learn about a form of music that rarely gets (or even wants) much in the way of press attention. Bring cash for the merch table’s limited-edition cassettes and the like. Secret Project Robot, 389 Melrose Street, Brooklyn,; Outpost Artist Resources, 1665 Norman Street, Queens,

Mary Halvorson Quintet
May 19

The composer-guitarist’s albums as a bandleader have gained more fans (and press) with each subsequent release. By blending the sonics of avant-rock with the rhythmic complexity of contemporary jazz, Halvorson has hit on a winning formula—the latest example of which is her forthcoming album with her quintet, Bending Bridges, for which this date serves as the release party. The whole band—which includes Ches Smith (sometime of Xiu Xiu) on drums and rising trumpet star Jonathan Finlayson—is top-notch. Cornelia Street Café, 29 Cornelia Street,