Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer demonstrates his elasticity and imagination within his agile sextet | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer demonstrates his elasticity and imagination within his agile sextet 

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click to enlarge Vijay Iyer Sextet

Vijay Iyer Sextet

Lynne Harty

Composer and pianist Vijay Iyer has taken advantage of his heightened visibility as a Harvard professor, MacArthur fellow, and ECM Records artist to pursue multiple projects, a puzzle of disparate interests that form an intriguing mosaic of his creative mind-set. While Far From Over (ECM), the debut from his agile sextet, certainly shares ideas he’s explored in his trio and in an old quartet with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa (especially the ongoing influence of his piano mentor, Andrew Hill), it carves out its own driving, rhythmically limber space. Few tracks illustrate his range like the opener, “Poles,” in which a chamberlike, meditative introduction where the ghostly arco lines of bassist Stephan Crump, the cymbal skitter of drummer Tyshawn Sorey, and the leader’s slowly accreting melodies suddenly explode into a sleek, jittering groove as the band’s three horn players—alto saxophonist Steve Lehman, tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, and cornetist Graham Haynes—navigate a pointillistic arrangement with unison lines pulling apart into off-kilter triads only to masterfully snap back into place. As the piece opens up, Lehman forges a corkscrewing, elliptical solo that feeds on a polyrhythmic fury churned out by Iyer and Sorey. That’s followed by an introspective exploration by Haynes as Iyer deftly switches to Fender Rhodes and brakes the groove into eventual silence. The title track pulsates like a jacked-up Morse code transmission, bursting with energy in a triumphant, almost martial theme, while on “Nope” Sorey brilliantly leads the group into a heady funk. For every bit of explosive, tightly coiled energy within tracks such as “Down to the Wire,” there’s an opposing loose, expansive vibe, such as that on the soulful trio performance of “For Amiri Baraka.” For tonight’s performance Marcus Gilmore, the spectacular percussionist in Iyer’s working trio, subs for Sorey.   v

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