Somnambule - Writing About Music

Vijay Iyer ~ Reimagining

Iyer may now be familiar from a wide variety of contexts including the conscious tone poetry of his collaboration In What Language? with vocalist Mike Ladd, his contributions to the NYC conduction band Burnt Sugar and his central role in Fieldwork, a piano, sax and drums trio, to name but three.

From the first, deeply vibrant notes of Iyer’s piano on Revolutions Reimagining conveys a feeling of condensed seriousness that’s only intensified when Iyer is joined by Stephan Crump’s roiling bass, the quicksilver shuffle of Marcus Gilmore’s drums and the stern lyricism of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s alto. Iyer proceeds to fire off darting ziggurats at a rate of knots, hedging beneath, racing along beside and pushing upwards from under Mahanthappa. The briefest of easing in pressure towards the end of the piece emphasises the intensity of the quartet’s performance.

Inertia looms up out of silence like one of Chopin’s most sombre Preludes, replete with a darkly abstract heart pulsing at its centre. The music reads like a penitent’s march across a stark landscape and is remarkable for its muscular reductivism. On Song For Midwood Mahanthappa plays with a wry weariness that knocks hard against Crump’s insistent bass notes laid like steel bars against the melody. Iyer takes the motif and weaves it into twisting, turning snake-like shapes perfectly formed to escape into the light. Iyer plays with a ringing bell-like tone that recalls both McCoy Tyner and Nina Simone at her most wrought, then drops small descending chords like blessings.

Reimagining’s domain is located between gut and midriff, there’s a sense of the pressure of breath held and released, but also that the potential for balance and flight might be seated in this central part of the body. The music conveys a narrative quality that’s very much driven by the leader that combines with a strong lyrical sense to create intensely engaging music. The album ends with a solo piano cover of John Lennon’s Imagine which appears to act as a cornerstone for the whole project. The song is turned into a seesawing, driving and complex piece at whose heart is a new determination arguably lacking in the original.
Colin Buttimer
April 2005
Published by Signal To Noise magazine