Peggy Sue Dunigan

Vijay Iyer on Alverno Presents

By - Mar 21st, 2011 04:56 pm
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Vijay Iyer. Chris Drukker photo courtesy of Iyer’s website.

On March 8, 2008, the Vijay Iyer Trio was stranded in a New York airport unable to fly into Milwaukee for an Alverno Presents concert. On March 19, 2011 the trio finally landed on the Wehr Hall stage at Alverno College for an intimate evening of jazz.

Iyer’s Solo album appeared on top 10 lists in 2010 critics poll, and the trio’s new Historcity album received a 2010 Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Jazz Album. Iyer started  playing violin at age three. He taught himself to play the piano until he discovered jazz in his teens. He still managed to find time for a Yale University degree in mathematics and physics, and a Ph.D from UC-Berkeley in technology and the arts. Iyer is a composer, bandleader, pianist, producer, professor and writer, which add up to one of the most revolutionary minds and musicians under 40.

Iyer’s trio also comprises bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, who joined Iyer nine and eight years ago, respectively. All are exceptional musicians.

The evening’s first set included old and new Iyer compositions: Abundance, Cardio and Optimism. In the second set, the music reflected on what Iyer called “the music of our heroes,” including Human Nature from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Hindustani and Carnatic musical influences, from Iyer’s Indian heritage, also flavor Iyer’s jazz interpretations. (Iyer just released an album called Tirtha, with South Asian musicians Prasanna and Nitin Mitta.)

His deeply complex and layered compositions stretch the limits in innovative improvisation and orchestration by integrating these far-flung components. Crump literally strokes the curved wood of his bass, caressing it like a woman, and often strums the strings in ways that bring the sitar to mind. Gilmore’s drumsticks fly over the skins in some numbers, while he may softly tap a drum rim on another. Both Gilmore or Crump are profoundly expressive, regardless of the technique of the moment.

Iyer limited his speaking a minimal but warm prefaces to the pieces. As a relative novice to such intellectual music, I found the Vijay Iyer Trio above all expectations. Alverno Presents hosts a talkback session with a cash bar for those patrons who wish to linger over the music experience while waiting for the trio to sign autographs on their CD’S. Jazz connoisseurs could appreciate the trio more fully, and applauded for several minutes at the concert’s end. What can one expect next? Iyer mentioned he’s scheduled for another Milwaukee appearance next year, a must see performance for those who appreciate one of the finest musical geniuses in any genre.

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