Beyond the Melting Pot

Vijay Iyer’s Reimagining ends with and takes its title from—sort of—a solo piano rumination on a John Lennon song I never liked to begin with, then came to despise through oversaturation in the days following Lennon’s murder. I didn’t buy the utopian bit; the real Lennon—the slain idol I mourned and wanted the media to acknowledge—was the one who surfaced on “Run for Your Life” and “Girl,” the angry John of “God,” “Mother,” and the Rolling Stone interviews. But I should have known better than to expect something sappy from the tough-minded Iyer, whose “Imagine” is more deconstruction than cover, retaining only a suggestion of the melody amid ominous, rolling chords—a post-globalization “Imagine” that concedes the dream is over, notwithstanding some hopeful tinkling at the end.

At Merkin Hall earlier this year, apparently, Iyer combined “Imagine” with “Somewhere,” from West Side Story. Unless “Revolutions,” the new CD’s careening opener, owes a debt to the Beatles I don’t hear, his only other nod to classic rock was “Because of Guns,” on 2003’s Blood Sutra, a steamroller riff based on Jimi Hendrix’s remake of “Hey Joe,” a misogynist revenge saga whose meaning Iyer altered by virtue of a cautionary title. As an interpreter, Iyer seems to choose songs for their lyrics and extra-musical connotations—the opposite of what I’d expect from so abstract a composer, much less one with a bachelor’s in physics and a Ph.D. in music and cognitive science. This will have to remain a puzzle for now, because the most remarkable thing about Reimagining is its nine originals for trio or quartet—so strong in conception and performance it seems only a matter of time before the same sort of consensus Jason Moran inspired a few years ago begins to form around Iyer, who was born in Rochester, New York, in 1971, the son of upper-middle-class Indian immigrants (father a retired research chemist, mother a manager for Xerox).

The most exhilarating of Iyer’s new pieces is “Phalanx,” where he interlocks with bassist Stephen Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore (Roy Haynes’s 18-year-old grandson, making his recording debut), for a whirlwind tempo they maintain when altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa enters at a slower one (and an independent time signature or on a different beat). Like many of Iyer’s solos here—an especially deft one following a series of excited repetitions where you expect a bridge is more like a duet with the precocious Gilmore—it’s Iyer’s left hand that drums out a semblance of a pulse, moving in and out of sync with the bass, while the traps engage in free counterpoint. The rhythm section ups the volume and complexity in response to Mahanthappa during his impassioned choruses, and with everything pointing to an explosive drum solo as the climax, Gilmore’s subtle and utterly relaxed one is quite a surprise.

Nothing Iyer achieves on Reimagining is unprecedented. His odd long phrasing and song structures recall Andrew Hill’s, and there are inevitable echoes of Cecil Taylor circa Into the Hot. More recent reference points would be Steve Coleman’s M-Base crunch—as in hip-hop, there are no weak beats—and Anthony Davis’s trick of normalizing dissonance via repetition, an influence that was more obvious on In What Language?, Iyer’s 2003 collaboration with spoken-word artist Mike Ladd, which though smaller in scale than Davis’s opera X required a similar compositional stretch. Iyer’s triumph is in understanding that composition and improvisation each have something to gain when they overlap. There’s something novel going on from beginning to end in each track, and although it’s occasionally a simple matter of dynamics (as on “Inertia,” the album’s closest thing to a ballad), it’s more often a case of rhythmic layering or metrical subdivision (examples include “Song for Midwood,” which proves 7/4 can be funky, and “Infogee’s Cakewalk,” which reconfigures a hip-hop rhythm into New Orleans second line).

I’m unable to say if any of this is the result of childhood osmosis or Iyer’s self-conscious immersion in traditional Carnatic music as an adult. I know too little about Indian music, North or South, to speak with authority, besides which jazz is still a melting pot—it’s assimilated so many diverse musical strains by this point, and particularly in recent years, that attempting to pinpoint where in the world anything came from is a fool’s game.

The Colorado-born Mahanthappa, Iyer’s Jimmy Lyons, is more generous in leaving clues. I missed his Dakshina Ensemble—his jazz quartet plus a trio of South Indian musicians, including saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath—at the Asia Society two weeks ago, but caught up with them in Philadelphia. I was talking to Mahanthappa after the show when a customer spotted him and asked, “Was that Latin jazz?” “Do I look Latin?” Mahanthappa asked.

A giveaway should have been the unusual number of Indian people who turned out, even if few of them wore kurtas or saris. My only argument with what I’m tempted to call identity jazz is the mistaken belief of some promoters that the way to lure more people to jazz is to convince audiences that it’s about them. The Polish-speaking immigrants I see at Tomasz Stanko are no more likely to show up for David S. Ware than the lesbian reconstructionist rabbi I recognized at a performance of Stephen Bernstein’s Diaspora Blues—and African American musicians are suddenly the ones left out in the cold. For all of that, the music itself can be pretty heady stuff, especially when driven by an honest desire to come to terms with a forgotten or long-taken-for-granted cultural heritage. In the Dakshina Ensemble, the two saxophonists found a common tongue in B-flat. That’s a natural setting for the bluesy, speech-inflected Mahanthappa. But it’s also Gopalnath’s sruti, or favored key.


Building the Tension

Halfway through “Ghost Time,” the first of his two premieres at Merkin Hall, Vijay Iyer dashed off a series of discordant piano glissandi that evoked the improv iconography of Cecil Taylor. But the piece’s algorithmic iBook accompaniment—a striation of chirrups, clicks, and throbs—described an avant-gardism of more recent vintage. Iyer, a rigorous thinker with a player’s taste for action, bridged the gap with methodical chordal tattoos.

Tension is the hallmark of Iyer’s compositional style, which employs polyphony often and counterpoint hardly at all. His other Merkin premiere, a 10-part suite called “Mutations,” featured taut, laborious string quartet writing. Uneasy drones gave way to twitchy scraps of melody, interspersed with flutters and squeals. The quartet known as Ethel expertly handled this challenge, although the final movement’s harrowing meter (33/8, I think) prompted cellist Dorothy Lawson to wag a timekeeping finger in the air. When he wasn’t sitting out entirely, Iyer played authoritative piano solos and triggered a host of laptop effects—the latter comprising Ethel samples that served as footnotes. This process peaked when the disquieting air-raid slide of the suite’s second movement resurfaced digitally in the ninth, enabling the strings to encounter recent versions of themselves. The moment underscored issues of identity and alienation—a purposeful move, as Iyer carefully explained in program notes and an intermission Q&A.

The concert’s second half began with solo piano readings of Bernstein’s “Somewhere” and Lennon’s “Imagine”—a pair of pop songs that treat identity and alienation as hurdles to be cleared. Iyer abstracted both songs in a somber middle register, softening his percussive attack with a supple touch. He lightened up during the subsequent five-song trio set, which began with an exploratory “Alaska” and segued into a jaggedly groovy “Cardio.” The group reached full steam on “Historicity,” a free-funk epic that weighed Stephan Crump’s steadfast bass figures against Marcus Gilmore’s coyly fragmented drumming. Their closing “Composites” was a dazzler too, but for different reasons. Near the song’s end, Iyer played a handful of refulgent chords—after all the tension, a refreshing release.


Silvery Guitarist Writes Engrossing Tunes and Plays Better Solos

The guitarist Liberty Ellman was born in London and raised in a Greene Street loft until schooling took him to California. There he hooked up with pianist Vijay Iyer and, in 1997, self-produced a noteworthy debut, Orthodoxy. Like Iyer, he returned to New York, attracting attention with his own trio and in projects with Iyer, Greg Osby, and Henry Threadgill’s Zooid. He has now released his second album, Tactiles, which is certain to turn heads. Ellman’s engrossing compositions employ seesaw vamps, eerie intervals, counterpoint, and tunes indistinguishable from the rhythms that ground them. The net effect is modern, even harmolodic, while remaining consonant and rhythmically charged. He likes moderate tempos and concise solos, emphasizing a feeling of measured exploration.

One might wish that he hadn’t composed the entire album (Orthodoxy finished with a luscious reading of Strayhorn’s “Blood Count”), because Ellman lacks a strong sense of melody—except as an improviser. His variations blend chromaticism, space, ringing chords, and a distinctive silvery tone, and always sustain interest. He suggests at times a cross between Grant Green (limber single-note phrasing) and Jim Hall (chordal punctuations and graceful caesuras). The album works as well as it does because his quartet is tight as a fist and his writing governs the texture and mood of each piece. Mark Shim’s tenor has never been more engaging, and bassist Stephen Crump and drummer Eric Harland appear to be monitoring and encouraging a conversation between the principal soloists. On three tracks, Osby joins them, mostly to beef up the ensemble. But he lets loose on “Ultraviolet,” which has everyone swinging into a shrewdly effective finish.


Invisible Cities, Invisible Men

On April 15, 2001, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi deplaned at New York’s JFK Airport on his way from a film festival in Hong Kong to one in Buenos Aires. Panahi was on a festival tour for his latest film, The Circle, and planners in both cities, as well as the attendants on his flight, told him that he did not require a transit visa. They were mistaken. Iran is on a short list of nations from which the United States requires all travelers to present visas regardless of the length of their stay, and in 1996 Attorney General Janet Reno had signed an order requiring the INS to fingerprint and photograph all Iranians upon entry into this country. With no transit visa and too much pride to have his mug shot taken, Panahi was chained to a wooden bench with similarly detained travelers from around the world. Ten hours later, he was sent back to Hong Kong, in handcuffs.

“I saw the Statue of Liberty in the waters and I unconsciously smiled,” Panahi wrote in an e-mail to the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, which had awarded The Circle their prestigious Freedom of Expression Award. “I tried to draw the curtain and there were scars of the chain on my hand. I could not stand the other travelers gazing at me and I just wanted to stand up and cry that I’m not a thief! I’m not a murderer! I’m not a drug dealer! I . . . I am just an Iranian, a filmmaker. But how I could tell this, in what language? In Chinese, Japanese, or to the mother languages of those people from Mexico, Peru, Russia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh . . . or in the language of that young boy from Sri Lanka?

“Really, in what language?”

Almost two years to the day later, pianist Vijay Iyer and rapper-poet Mike Ladd are sitting in the homeliest diner on the whole Upper West Side and discussing In What Language?, a live multimedia project—inspired by Panahi’s story—that runs at the Asia Society from this Thursday through Sunday. It is an ambitious protest for a belittling time. The performance fuses Ladd’s depictions of the internal monologues of travelers and laborers in an international airport with Iyer’s rumbling, troubled soundtrack. Though the particulars of Panahi’s story are never directly invoked, they set the inspiration and context for the show. “He had already checked what his needs would be, what his requirements would be,” Iyer explains calmly and coolly, before his voice rises to meet his outrage. “He was just transiting! He wasn’t even leaving the airport!”

The airport, with its relentless energy of coming and going, is the perfect site for the pair’s commentary on lives in transition. Iyer had long hoped to engage in something that looked at how people of color negotiated globalization, but it wasn’t until hearing about Panahi’s case that his project found its shape, name, and setting. He applied for a grant through the Asia Society and approached Ladd about contributing lyrics.

Iyer and Ladd first met in 1997 when Iyer was playing keyboard for boho San Francisco hip-hop band Midnight Voices. In the years since, they’ve distinguished themselves as freethinkers resisting the trappings of their home genres. Ladd’s five albums bear the schizophrenic energy of someone equally moved by poetry, hip-hop, and hardcore punk in youth. His hoarse, wandering vocals belie the concentrated vigor with which he approaches and dissects history. Iyer’s playing is marked by a dense and deceptively rhythmic style; nothing comes easy in his music but it never feels like an exercise in avant-excess. Instead, it’s the injury of collapsing his disparate, sometimes dissonant, influences—African, Asian, and European American—into a single, cross-cultural stream.

The weight of history hangs heavily on each of Iyer’s notes, but his music isn’t literal about the stories he’s telling. The experiences of a self-taught, 29-year-old jazz pianist born to immigrant parents aren’t supposed to constitute a neat, accessible story, and that’s part of the self-conscious worry Iyer and Ladd bring to the character sketches of In What Language? Ladd explains: “It’s that real challenge of trying not to exoticize anyone—trying not to fall into any stereotypes, but at the same time, trying not to universalize the situation. You don’t want to end up with this thing where, hey, we’re all humans.”

The majority of Ladd’s 18 poems are told from the point of view of travelers and laborers. The characters are all composed from snatches of conversation Ladd had while traveling or hanging out with the hodgepodge of nationalities and cultures that compose his Bronx neighborhood. Ladd also wrote a series of more personal interludes titled The Color of Circumference that re-examine the story from his perspective as a young African American male. There is also a biting critique of the American empire, “The Density of the 19th Century,” that Ladd describes as “the history of conquest in two minutes.”

In What Language? succeeds by not wearing its political views on its sleeve but offering them slyly, through the feeling the performance evokes. The music—composed by Iyer and performed by a seven-piece band—glides and swirls with a thick, heartening spirit. Ladd’s characters are complicated, and though they emphasize the uniqueness of their positions, there’s always something open, even affirming, about them. A Sierra Leonean woman awaiting her asylum hearing and withstanding hysteria retreats into her memories. She shares one of her father, sitting on a faraway beach, sipping an orange soda and listening to a cassette of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.” An Iraqi businessman packing his suitcase watches mob movies on cable, trying in vain to mentally parse the insecurities unique to his own character from those the world wishes upon him. “It’s just so crucial that people see some depiction of normal people,” Iyer emphasizes. “Right now, they’re just blips on a screen, they’re not real people.”

“Inanna After Baghdad” is not about a real person but it’s one of the evening’s most moving moments. The poem is named after the Mesopotamian goddess of life, and is narrated by someone seeing her appear, disappear, and reappear throughout history. As if to suggest that divinity has been defeated by human folly, the poem, which is the only one that is explicitly about the war, ends with Inanna trudging through deserted Baghdad streets, tears trailing behind her righteous steps. It’s an image that screams pain, in this language or any.


Purely Piano

Mid September’s 2002 Verizon Music Festival—note the absence of the J-word—offered little to the J-audience beyond McCoy Tyner and Tony Bennett, at least in the big halls. But a week of solo piano recitals at the Jazz Standard filled me with more optimism about the J-future than anything else this year. Though dramatically different from each other, three pianists born in the ’70s indicated a united front in their unconventional approaches, filtering of influences, and involvement with the music of their time. Each devised an emphatic solo style—a purely pianistic music, as opposed to a trio music without the trio. Several times I wondered whether Ethan Iverson, Vijay Iyer, and Jason Moran were playing jazz at all, but I never really cared. All of this was no less true of 41-year-old Matthew Shipp, who I will catch up with when Equilibrium is released in January. I assume it was also true of 47-year-old Fred Hersch (who I missed), knowing his intermingling of jazz and classical techniques. But I doubt that Hersch accessed one ingredient connecting the other four, especially in their new or imminent albums: hip-hop beats.

It was just a matter of time. For more than a decade, jazz musicians seeking concord with contemporary pop hired rappers, who sometimes rapped about jazz, as if that would make their intrusions more palatable. The answer was as close as Miles Davis, who knew to cherchez the rhythm. Jazz musicians who know hip-hop or grunge as part of the wallpaper of their youths are neither intimidated by nor contemptuous of it. They follow a key principle of jazz aesthetics in stealing anything that works (“Jazz is an octopus,” Dexter Gordon said), which is different from mixed drinks that dilute both factors. When Herbie Hancock, a pioneer of monotonous fusion and electronic beats, argued for the acceptance of “new standards” (rock tunes), he had to superimpose harmonic patterns to make them playable—he might as well have stayed with Tin Pan Alley. The borrowings of the under-30s are so natural that you may not notice them unless signposts are erected: No one can miss the dubbed beats in Moran’s version of Afrika Bambaata’s “Planet Rock,” but until I checked the sleeve I had no idea that the wildly effective fifth track of Iverson’s The Bad Plus is a Nirvana cover.

Iverson, with shaved head and goatee, looks like a cross between Pete Fountain and Dr. Cyclops, and the latter’s influence is the more prominent—in the microscopic attention to melody, the bombastic bursts of Lisztian fury, the patiently unpredictable bemusement while studying his captured song morsels. At the Jazz Standard, he opened with what might have been a John Ford soundtrack, the right hand picking “My Darlin’ Clementine,” “You Are My Sunshine,” and “Red River Valley,” while the left erected conflicting waves of dissonance or bounding ornamentation or a resolute ostinato, much of it foot-pedaled (the right pedal got a fierce workout all week). His control and plangent attack made the instrument roar, though an occasional stiffness grounded him. He lightened up on standards, including a whirlwind “All the Things You Are” cadenza, but he never relaxed for long, preferring to shake the rafters like the bells of Notre Dame.

The Bad Plus is a cooperative with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King, and no one will confuse it with an orthodox piano trio. The CD (on Fresh Sound) boasts an unmistakable jazz pedigree, but it also rocks, and even when they play theme and variations, they keep the theme in view, playing at and around it, never discarding melody or the equilateral rapport that gives the group its intensity. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a highlight, the chorus cued by a mad Cubano glissando in an arrangement that alternates permutations on the song’s two themes, while the dynamic King steamrolls the beat, caroming into his marks. Abba’s hopeless “Knowing Me Knowing You,” however, a sorry opener for a good album, reminds us that jazzing pop can be as coy as jazzing the classics, and no amount of dissonance or artillery throttles the banality. Similarly, on “Blue Moon,” the trio can’t decide whether it likes the tune or wants to humiliate it. Yet the five originals close the sale. “The Breakout” begins and ends stormily and envelops a ripe ballad by Anderson; and Iverson’s “Labyrinth” gets under way with a five-beat thumping, before flowering as a concise meditation spurred by the natural momentum of inverted harmonies. One can imagine a jazz-to-grunge reversal here, a rock band laying claim to the piece—not that there’s any need.

Vijay Iyer opened his Jazz Standard set with an elbow to the bass clef, followed by a dark drone balancing a light single-note tune and belling treble chords, sustaining a rhythmic pulse without giving into foursquare swing. An airless romanticism blanketed his original pieces and one by Steve Coleman, but gave way to a stirring triptych of Ellington’s “Le Sucrier Velours,” Monk’s “Epistrophy,” and a Cecil-like barrage engineered around Hendrix’s version of “Hey Joe.” He is a stirring player who shares Iverson’s penchant for fat chords and pedaled volume but compels attention with long, confident phrases that race around the keyboard and avoid the usual stops. He, too, is involved in a cooperative: Fieldwork, with tenor saxophonist Aaron Stewart and another raging drummer, Elliot Humberto Kavee, whose rumble brings Your Life Flashes (Pi) to instant life. Iyer wrote most of the music, but the pieces take their final form through interactive serendipity. There’s so much going on, you never miss the bass. And rarely does anyone lay out for more than a few bars—this is all trio, all the time. In one passage, Iyer plays static chords in the extreme registers of the keyboard, and the effect is as if he’s dropped out to favor a tenor-drums passage; he returns by claiming the middle register. Stewart’s warm sound, reminiscent of Dewey Redman, adds to the flow and intimacy. Only “The Inner World,” one of two slow and moody pieces, derives conspicuously from generic ’70s jazz; “Mosaic” alights with hip-hop accents. Most of the pieces are terse, spellbinding miniatures that never stand still.

In addition to being close in age and crossing their conservatory techniques with pop fancies, Iverson, Iyer, and Moran reflect the influence of pianists overlooked in the ’60s and ’70s, when every keyboard player seemed under the sway or Evans, Tyner, or Taylor, or, later, Hancock, Corea, or Jarrett. Now we keep hearing talk of and works by Jaki Byard, Andrew Hill, and Muhal Richard Abrams, plus the earlier stride hierarchy, not to mention Ellington, whose The Queen’s Suite evidently has a special resonance. Jason Moran’s selection from it at the Jazz Standard was “Sunset and the Mocking Bird,” during a set that never completely abandoned a jazz groove, or a sanguine originality, even as he employed such devices as Horace Silver vamps, Monk dissonances, and partying stride; on the autobiographical “Gentle Shifts South,” he added taped family voices. He doesn’t use the tape for the version on Modernistic (Blue Note), but he has enough other rabbits in his hat. Indeed, this is one of the most rigorously unpredictable and rewarding solo piano albums in years.

Moran takes liberties, and the album has something to please or offend everyone. Consider four of the pieces he didn’t write. The album title derives from James P. Johnson’s 1930 recording, “You’ve Got to Be Modernistic,” which the composer played at tremendous velocity, as a succession of 16-bar strains. Johnson is one of the founders of a jazz piano style that goes beyond Harlem; it hews to melodic embellishments, something the players in the Jazz Standard series appreciate. They are as free as they want to be, yet incline toward a variational fidelity. Thus Moran polished Johnson’s key theme even as he opened it up after each four-bar section with echoes of the last-played phrase, giving his reading an asymmetrical impulsiveness, with starts and stops, despite the stride underpinning. His “Body and Soul” may be the only genuinely new attack since Sarah Vaughan’s 1978 duet with Ray Brown, which begins with the bridge. Working exclusively with the song’s first melodic idea, Moran never plays the bridge at all. And so sure is he in working and reworking the hook, tied to an ostinato, that you don’t mind its absence. Near the end, he suddenly erupts with a full-bore arpeggio; in that one gesture, he lets you know how much piano history he commands.

On “Planet Rock,” Moran uses dubs and reversed tape—it’s a different planet than Bill Evans’s Conversations With Myself—to set up the melody, which he interprets almost as an anthemic lullaby, a radio tune stuck in your head. As an addendum, he adds a two-minute pensée on a beat he contrived for the arrangement. Covering all bases, he essays Schumann’s “Auf einer Burg,” from the second Liederkreis cycle, as a popular song—two 18-bar episodes with a four-bar transition. Moran plays the simple tune with a solemn loveliness, adding subtle variations in the harmony, which becomes a kind of chord progression for his second chorus. At that point he embellishes the theme with rhythmic interest, yet never breaks the spell. He follows it with “Gentle Shifts South,” and in this context his own melody emerges as an inversion of Schumann’s, sustaining its lyrical mood. Modernistic is a remarkable album.


Alive and Kicking

Rumor has it that jazz is dead except as purveyed by beautiful young women with smoldering eyes and/or big hair, and sometimes it seems that way. But when you encounter a musician like 27-year-old Jason Moran, whose latest CD Modernistic (Blue Note) is an unalloyed delight, you realize anew that the obits, which have been cropping up since the early 1930s, ignore the sharklike instinct that keeps jazz gliding forward. Moran was born in Texas and switched from classical to jazz studies at 13, after hearing Monk. His instinct for a percussive attack was underscored in New York, where he graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and studied with Muhal Richard Abrams, Andrew Hill, and Jaki Byard, whose wit and flamboyance shine through the new CD’s “Moran Tonk Circa 1935.” Moran’s improvisations are vital, abrupt, eruptive, keyed to the composition at hand, and, even when hewing to the changes, equally drumlike and melodic. He combines ostinato figures, varying tempi and meters, crisp rhythmic closed chords, and dance beats that range from stride to hip-hop with a here’s-mud-in-your-eye confidence. His slow-motion ballads are measured and shrewd. The new CD is a solo tour de force, and that’s how he appears on September 21 at Jazz Standard (116 East 27th Street, 576-2232), closing out a week of superb pianists: Ethan Iverson, Fred Hersch, Vijay Iyer, and Matthew Shipp. He leads his hot-blooded trio with Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits at the Village Vanguard (178 Seventh Avenue South, 255-4037), November 26-December 1.


September 10-15

Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, 255-4037

The pianist has found an ideal definition for his music in a trio with bassist Peter Washington, whose dark tones anchor the beat, and drummer Kenny Washington, whose brushes make it crackle. Playing with rare lyricism and a disarmingly spare attack that disguises his formidable technique, Charlap brings a new blush to old songs.


October 4

Jazz Gallery, 290 Hudson Street, 242-1063

The imposing altoist, whose work with pianist Vijay Iyer has produced some of the most distinctive sounds heard in jazz during the past few years, leads a quartet in celebration of his CD Black Water. The music is bright and handsomely voiced; the ensemble, which inclines toward surprising unison alto-piano voicings, a model of interactive unity.


October 8-13

Iridium, 1650 Broadway, 582-2121

Ever since he began bringing his new trio here a few years ago, Rivers has been on a tear, effortlessly winning over audiences that don’t seem to notice how difficult his music is supposed to be. Ebullient, generous, and mightily inventive, he offers a circus of surprise events, revealing different styles on tenor, flute, soprano, and piano.


October 16-17

Alice Tully Hall, Broadway and 65th Street, 721-6500

He is one of the few surviving bop masters, and he’s still playing at the top of his game. His recent bands have found him spurring sidemen with the same energy and invention that made his name when he backed Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, and Stan Getz, among countless others. On the second night, Chick Corea will appear. Haynes’ll put on a good show with or without.


October 22-27

Iridium, 1650 Broadway, 582-2121

The finest jazz singer of her generation is also the most entertaining, with her megawatt smile, theatrical flair, and improvisational brio, which extends to comedic raps as well as to lightning romps—backed by her virtuoso tuning fork of a trio. This week she’ll sing Kurt Weill, the subject of her new CD; these evocative, moody, often overlooked songs have never sounded brighter.


October 22-27

Blue Note, 131 West 3rd Street, 475-8592

This annual get-together, administered by Jon Faddis, who embodies more of Dizzy’s style than anyone, is truly all-star and great fun, including James Moody, Slide Hampton, Randy Brecker, Benny Green, plus Paquito D’Rivera during the week and Jackie McLean on the weekend.


October 29-November 3

Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, 255-4037

For several years, the question was: Which Regina Carter—jazz swinger or fusioneer? That issue has been settled in recent appearances with Kenny Barron (including the excellent CD Motor City Moments), Randy Weston, James Carter, and her own groups. She’s the hottest violinist in jazz today, a compelling player, leading a quintet.


November 5-10

Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, 576-2232

His marvelous high-energy alto sax is a beacon of unreconstructed, all-out virtuoso fervor, sustaining the rigors of Coltrane and Adderley with a serrated edge all his own. When he isn’t chewing through changes, he illuminates ballads with glowing audacity. He reunites with Kenny Barron in the Monk-inspired Sphere at the Iridium, through September 8, and explores the music of John Coltrane, as on his new CD.


November 12-17

Blue Note, 131 West 3rd Street, 475-8592

Her remarkable triptych of concerts last season underscored her skills as a songwriter, but she is just as powerful an interpreter of choice standards. Lincoln is now the reigning diva of jazz singers, a position she holds by dint of an uncompromising individuality that has sustained her through an up and down career of five decades.


November 19-24

Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, 581-3080

The exhilaration and finesse that marked the 2000 inaugural of this string-lovers banquet is documented on Live at Birdland (Atlantic), and the four evenings that constitute part trois are sure to measure up, bringing together guitarists, violinists, and bassists from here and abroad.


December 12 and 14

Alice Tully Hall, Broadway and 65th Street, 721-6500

Weeks before the 65th anniversary of BG’s epochal Carnegie Hall concert (which will itself be memorialized in 2003), these performances feature the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with guests Bob Wilber and Paquito D’Rivera, and some of the most imperishable arrangements of the ’30s and ’40s, by names like Fletcher Henderson, Edgar Sampson, and Eddie Sauter.


December 24-29

Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, 255-4037

Now in its fifth year, this two-week, year-end tradition has the great pianist leading two quartets, first with the incomparable altoist Jackie McLean and second with Vincent Herring, one of the key altoists to come along in the ’80s.


Work in Progress

The long fingers of pianist Vijay Iyer, who appeared with his quartet in the recent Jazz Gallery series, “Pianobility,” look like tarantula legs as they scamper across the keys, arched high and slightly bent at the knuckles. In liner notes and promotional materials, he has aligned himself with the percussive school of jazz piano—Ellington, Hines, Monk, Powell, Taylor, Nichols, Weston, Tyner, and the rest—and you can hear the influences at work, but he doesn’t sound like any of them. His touch is firm and dramatic, in accord with his penchant for vamps (put Ibrahim on the list) and architectonic structures and ringing overtones (Jamal, too); yet its very deliberation suggests more of a pressing than a striking of the keys (also Pullen and Walton). In an era of homages, Iyer is no slouch: His notes to his first CD, the nicely titled Memorophilia, include his pantheon of more than 80 musicians “and many others, of course.” Still, his sound is his own, and you would recognize it in a blindfold test.

That alone is impressive, particularly for an academic—degrees from Yale and Berkeley and a dissertation, “Microstructures of Feel, Macrostructures of Sound: Embodied Cognition in West African and African-American Musics.” (Academics have to write like that; it’s a law.) Iyer is full of words and himself: His music, he says in the notes to Architextures, is about “what I have learned as a member of the postcolonial, multicultural South Asian diaspora, as a person of color peering in critically from the margins of American mainstream culture, and as a human being with a body, a mind, memories, emotions, and spiritual aspirations.” That may be true, but happily, his music lacks any whiff of homework. Like his touch, it is spry and darting—very smart and without a need to show off or push a point. South Asian tropes are handily reconciled. Programmatic titles aside, his music is all music.

Iyer, not yet 30, has recorded three discs as a leader for Asian Improv. Each is significantly better than its predecessor, and his Jazz Gallery appearance suggested advances since he recorded the soon-to-be-released third, Panoptic Modes. The first two were recorded in 1995 and 1997, but released in 1998. For Memorophilia, he borrowed credibility by using a few established players, including Steve Coleman and George Lewis. Iyer’s affection for bedrock vamps is evident, as is his inclination to begin improvisations behind the beat with exploratory figures—the tarantula feeling its way before it charges into a rhythmic dance, bounded by pulsing chords and riffs. Although the bass and drum solos are integrated into rhythm-section passages, they do not always sustain interest; some of the pieces are more focused than others. “March & Epilogue” gets life from the march beat conjoined with inventive piano responses, before George Lewis’s stormy trombone takes it into avant-garde-land. “Peripatetics”—with Liberty Ellman’s guitar, an electric bass ostinato, and a whimsical theme—is more satisfying. Iyer’s solo grows in assurance and dynamics, as if looking for a home and then finding it and then receding from it as bass or drums garner strength and take the spotlight—practically an idée fixe. Sometimes, as in the unaccompanied “Algebra,” he shifts focus from nuance-and-overtones to dissonance, repetition, block chords, and a driving percussive prance of a solo. But always, he is an avant-garde acolyte who insists on structure. When his fingers drag him into the realm of step exercises, he saves himself with overt swing rhythms, but an algebraic stiffness crops up throughout, creating trade-offs between his need for order and the suppleness of his best playing. Architextures, for trio and octet, is a vast improvement, continuing his association with Ellman and adding two saxophonists, Aaron Stewart (who leans toward Shorter) and Eric Crystal (who leans toward Coltrane). He opens with an unaccompanied “Prelude,” showing keen understanding of Cecil Taylor’s softer side (and the caprice of Jaki Byard, also in the pantheon), and continues with “Meeting of Rivers,” which begins with a reference to Ellington’s ballet The River before the saxophones kick up a unison riff. This is a far tighter group than on the first album, and Iyer’s playing has taken on a cultivated lilt. “Three Peas” has a touch of the snake charmer, probably with deeper roots in Ellington and Coltrane than in South Asia, but there’s a sustaining authenticity to the solos, especially that by altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa. Both discs are too long, of course—”always leave ’em wanting more” is not an avant-garde maxim—but they document an artist sidestepping eclecticism even as he shifts from one base to another. Iyer strides a lot closer to home on the forthcoming Panoptic Modes, which features the same quartet that appeared at the Jazz Gallery—Mahanthappa, bassist Stephan Crump, drummer Derrek Phillips. The pieces are brighter and handsomely voiced, and the group is more than just tight. It’s a unit that not only avoids head-and-solos routines, but integrates the ensemble almost to the point of doing away with soloist-and-accompaniment. On “Atlanean Tropes” and “One Thousand and One,” for example, Iyer micromanages the performances with vamps, simultaneously playing a bass clef unison with the bassist and a treble unison with the altoist. The most Eastern-sounding piece is “Invariants,” which alternates piano and alto phrases with a unison alto-piano high note serving as punctuation mark. Iyer’s solo is exemplary—his trademark approach, pacing himself with hesitations before revving up aggressive spidery phrases that charge ahead with imposing conviction. Influences are apparent—”Configurations” suggests Tyner, and “Circular Argument” is Iyer’s take on bop, complete with flatted fifth—but the defining touches are distinct: the unison voicing on the former, the large intervals in his solo on the latter. He seems to strum the atypically lyrical chords on “Mountains,” which is at once airy and restive, as if designed for a movie about Hans Castorp. Vamps are Iyer’s strength and weakness, animating some of his pieces and stultifying others; more to the point, they are a device he uses to excess, as he does passages in which the bass comes to the fore. The idea is sound, but the bass solos are neither varied nor distinctive enough to justify the space they get. These quibbles remained unaddressed at the Jazz Gallery, though most of the performances were even livelier. Mahanthappa, a gifted player with centered pitch and a propensity for the middle register, played with a tremendous exuberance, as did Iyer, who loves foot pedals and occasionally plucks the strings. Vamps, ostinatos, basslines, and punctuating chords center the solos so that improvised figures zoom into full stops—periods. A writerly analogy becomes even more pronounced when Iyer and Mahanthappa exchange phrases of varying length, as on “One Thousand and One”—they aren’t trading fours, but whole sentences, seemingly free and yet bound by an ostinato. When Iyer really digs in, you know you are hearing an accomplished musician, but you also get the sense that he is keeping something in reserve. He is a work in progress, and his third album whets the appetite for his fourth.

In 1958, Bill Evans was a work in progress. His name never makes the roster of percussive pianists because he is so closely associated with elaborate chord substitutions and a relatively ethereal sound. But back before Kind of Blue, his music was defined by his Riverside debut and driving work with George Russell, both highly percussive, though his lyricism was unmistakable. Verve has now reissued Eddie Costa’s Guys and Dolls Like Vibes, an exceedingly rare 1958 Coral LP with Evans on piano, Wendell Marshall on bass, and Paul Motian on drums. Costa, who died at 31, was an exceptional pianist, known for his rigorous solos centered at and below middle C, but he was also a distinctive vibes player with an eerily muffled sound and unusual voicings. For the six shining Frank Loesser songs on this album, Costa wisely stays with the vibes and lets Evans romp freely through his imaginative arrangements. Together, they turn “Adelaide” into a near blues into which Evans interpolates a hunting call. This virtually unknown album, never previously reissued, is a long-lost treasure.