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Vijay Iyer Trio at The Jazz Standard

by Nick Stubblefield

Vijay Iyer, Jazz Standard
Photo by Stephen Pisano

In his still-young career, Vijay Iyer has amassed an impressive set of credentials, and is known for pushing creative boundaries beyond what's generally accepted as jazz. Personally, I'd heard little of Vijay's music before, so when I stepped into the Jazz Standard to catch his trio last Wednesday, I had little idea of what to expect. To Iyer's credit, he makes music unlike any I've ever heard. 

Iyer was joined on stage, as usual, by Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. Crump was the standout, giving a high-energy, all-in performance -- a contrast to Iyer's somewhat-rigid performance style: clean, precise, calculated. He stuck to his own post-modern material, never falling back on standards that casual jazz fans might be familiar with. It was experimental, in the best sense of the word.

The night began with a playful, highly syncopated work, with plenty of interplay between Iyer and Crump. Despite odd meters and unpredictable rhythms, the piece grooved hard. In fact, much of the program was filled with toe-thumping grooves.

Photo by Stephen Pisano

After Iyer had clearly established his style -- post-modern scales on top of somewhat more traditional harmonic material -- he really began to have some fun. Crump would lay down a hard groove reminiscent of dubstep, providing the perfect bedding for Iyer's intricate riffs on the piano. "Hood", from the trio's latest release, Break Stuff, built and deconstructed itself beautifully.

Iyer's playing can be a bit of an acquired taste. His calculated, precise style and reliance on highly-repetitive musical phrases can sound a bit cold or detached in a genre that often generates a great deal of emotional fireworks. But, Iyer's cleverness and inovation as a composer made for an overall worthwhile experience. 

More pics on the photo page.