CD REVIEW: Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far from Over



Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far from Over
(ECM 576 7386. CD review by Brian Marley)


Vijay Iyer has always been a strongly rhythmic player, especially when working with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, but his melodic sensibility is every bit as strong. His way of engaging with tunes was perhaps heard to best advantage on Solo (ACT, 2010) on which, in addition to compositions of his own, he took signature pieces by Ellington and Monk and made them over and rendered them anew. Even in his earliest sessions for the Asian Improv label, some two decades ago, his sure-footedness and musical ambition suggested good things to come. ECM was right to pick him up when they did, and the nurturing of his talent has produced consistently excellent results.

Mutations (2014), the first session he recorded for the label under his own name, found him with one foot planted in ECM’s New Series, more contemporary classical than improvisational jazz per se, but the trio session Break Stuff (2015) and now Far from Over are firmly in the jazz tradition. His sextet comprises old friends Stephan Crump (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums), who’ve been recording with him on and off since the turn of the century, joined here by trumpeter Graham Haynes, and saxophonists Mark Shim and Steve Lehman. It’s a tightly knit group that swings effortlessly through even the most complex of charts.

Haynes also brings electronic soundscaping to bear on Wake and End of the Tunnel, the latter of which gradually swallows itself before emerging into the light of a single drum beat. The sextet is frequently broken down into smaller instrumental units, and sometimes it’s just Iyer playing solo, as in the introduction to Poles. The first third of Down to the Wire features piano trio, then the horns hit the theme hard and add punctuative blasts throughout Shim’s heated tenor solo. Elsewhere there are strong funk elements and even of hint of Miles running the voodoo down, circa 1970, though the ensemble playing here is tighter than tight and the intensity is fearsome.

Whereas the running order of some CDs seems to have been arrived at randomly, by plucking titles from a hat, that’s obviously not the case with Far from Over - (the producer credit is Manfred Eicher....). Start at the beginning and you’ll be inclined to play the CD to the end, so fittingly does one track lead to another. But what’s most refreshing about it is that despite incorporating jazz tropes that have been worn thin by a century of hard use, it still manages to surprise. There’s not much here you won’t have heard before, but never quite like this.

LINK: The Vijay Iyer Sextet - with the identical / full personnel from the ECM record - will be at Wigmore Hall this Friday 13 October.

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