The American pianist Vijay Iyer passed the rising-star milestone in the mid-noughties and now looks like being the next big thing – he is set to win a fistful of honours this summer.
Like many musicians of his generation – he was born in New York in 1971 – Iyer draws on a broad range of influences. And, as with most contemporary pianists, improvisations unfurl as a freewheeling dialogue within a regular working trio. Iyer stands out, though, for his sheer range of influences and for the depth of understanding he displays as he moulds them into coherence. At this packed club date, Iyer’s repertoire included pithy originals and left-field covers – a tweaked “Body and Soul” and Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” – and not a note seemed out of place.
Iyer’s style embellishes current collegiate concerns with a thorough understanding of Indian classical music and the byways of the jazz tradition. Runs capture the light-fingered dissonance of the 1950s left field and end in unexpected places. At this gig he gave pianist Herbie Nichols’ “Wildflower” a figured-bass first-set makeover; and the a cappella “Body and Soul” was a finale showcase for Iyer’s grasp of harmony as well as his fluent technique.
Both sets opened with terse-titled, cross-rhythmic originals that grew in tension and complexity – “Lude” in the first set, “Dogon A.D.” in the second. A piano paradiddle was echoed on bass, a well-struck snare hit an odd beat, there were wide chords and rumbling octaves, and a mesh of rhythmic intrigue guided by a hidden hand. In the first set, it roared to a climax and ended in total silence.
Iyer’s band follow, embellish and initiate at every turn. Drummer Marcus Gilmore delivers understated cross-rhythms and stunted rolls with a crisp sound and a sharp attack, and bassist Stephan Crump was simply outstanding without hogging the limelight. His solos merged riffs and syncopations into an intimate conversation, and his surging counterpoint was warm-toned and precise. And it was his slashing bowed bass that infused “Little Pocket Size Demons” into a melodramatic, tango-infused highlight. The encore, a zippy upgrade of “Mystic Brew” from Iyer’s first album, confirmed the trio’s growth in stature.