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Vijay Iyer Mutations

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Label: ECM

Year: 2014

Duration: 60 minutes

1 of 1 Vijay Iyer: Cutting edge New York pianist pushing the sonic envelope
Vijay Iyer: Cutting edge New York pianist pushing the sonic envelope

RTÉ One’s The Works – and The View before it – have always selected skillful, distinctive-sounding musical acts for their programmes and one remembers being charmed in  2006 by the exhilarating, vital music of the young American Jazz pianist Vijay Iyer.

In advance of that musician’s Irish visit that year, The View featured the cutting edge performer in session in New York with friends Rudresh Mahanthappa on saxophone, Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. In the course of the programme, we learned that Iyer, a serious talent, drew on African, Asian and European musical influences.

But that was then, this is now, and in the intervening time Iyer has clearly sought to push the envelope much further indeed. Mutations is jazz, but not as we know it, Jim. This is a solo album of original compostions whose opening track is a work for solo piano, the expansively-titled  Spellbound and Sacrosanct, Cowrie Shells and the Shimmering Sea. Updated Debussy in essence, it's a winning, warm thing.

Track two, Vuln Part 2,  follows with more Impressionist-era piano rills and trills, but this time accompanied by the low whine of electronics and a drum pulse. A bit of knob-twiddling , one assumes, and the electronics supervene over the piano. It’s like a gently duelling effect, and it’s over quickly.  

The ten-part cycle Mutations i-x – for string quartet, piano and electronics takes us into Philip Glass/Kronos Quartet territory. That vibrato violin on the first of these Mutations sounds somehow like plaintive Indian singing, to these untutored ears.

Some of the remaining pieeces in that Mutations mini-set within the set are challenging, but one cannot deny the acute sensibility and keen vision displayed for instance on the vivid, three-minute sea picture that is Mutation vi: Waves.  Intellectual, you could say, but the opening track is unequivocally sensual.

Paddy Kehoe

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