Vijay Iyer Trio
with Linda May Han Oh & Tyshawn Sorey
Pianist Vijay Iyer has evolved into one of the most influential figures in American music, a distinguished educator, composer, improviser, and thinker whose vibrations extend well beyond sound.
He’s made challenging himself a crucial tenet of his artistic practice and during the pandemic he pulled the plug on his long-running trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, silencing his best known band to forge a new one. While he has worked extensively with drummer Tyshawn Sorey—whose multifarious work is just as distinguished—this trio with bassist Linda May Han Oh presented an unfamiliar context. Additionally, Iyer has pointedly given his cohorts equal billing, a reflection of their role in shaping the music.
In 2021 the group released its debut Uneasy, a fitting title for these fraught times. As usual, Iyer’s compositions were written with current events heavy on his mind, whether the deadly water crisis reflected in “Children of Flint,” or the senseless killing of Eric Garner at the hands of the police in “Combat Breathing.” His tone and harmonies have never sounded darker. There’s even a gloom suffusing the ebullient melody of “Night and Day,” but rhapsodizing challenging emotions and ideas has long been central to his practice. Iyer doesn’t turn away from life’s difficulties, instead taking them into account and letting us feel their weight.
The trio can kick up serious dust when the moment suits, but much of the time it seems to float despite the tonal darkness. Among Sorey’s many brilliant qualities is an ability to keep the music aloft with the lightest touch, simultaneously conjuring a cloud-like bed while dropping accents and displacing time with nonchalant ferocity. The music is explosive and serene at the same time.