Vijay Iyer, Far From Over

by Sylvannia Garutch

Pianist Vijay Iyer is back with an album featuring a sextet lineup that emanates creative and diverse writing titled, Far From Over on ECM records, produced by Manfred Eicher.

Iyer is known for his diverse catalog, projects featuring a string quartet, or a trio that focuses on the swinging elements of jazz is not an uncommon approach for Iyer. He also incorporates elements from a wide variety of styles:  Indian classical music, pop, folk music, West African folk music, jazz, and funk.  Far From Over builds upon that theme, with a strong focus on Indian Classical music and West African folk music, as it relates to the jazz sextet consisting of: Vijay Iyer: piano, Fender Rhodes, Graham Haynes: cornet, flugelhorn, electronics, Steve Lehman: alto saxophone, Mark Shim: tenor saxophone, Stephan Crump: double-bass and Tyshawn Sorey: drums.  The ten-track album contains strong ensemble writing, but still focuses on the core rhythm section sound to keep things together and focused on the groove.

“Nope” opens with Iyer on Rhodes, setting up a groove with Crump, with the staggered entrance of the three horns leading to a band hit, the main groove is then introduced. With a strong bluesy back beat and angular horn lines, and hits with just enough counterpoint to keep things interesting, the ensemble slowly unfolds the musical event. Iyer switches to the piano for his solo, the groove is altered, but still retains the core elements. Sorey and Crump’s groove is delightful, they have developed the ability to deeply listen to each other and it shows.  Virtuosic solos, full of funk/jazz rhythms and prodigious lines are turned in by all three horns, amongst the creative writing by Iyer. The written backgrounds and interludes keep the music focused and related to the main theme.

The influence of post-bop is conveyed on the energetic “Down to the Wire.” This selection shows the aptitude of the ensemble to bring forth exciting music that is both grounded in the tradition, but still clearly reaching forward in its depth of groove and harmonic/melodic vocabulary. Shim’s solo is outstanding. His timing and interaction with the rhythm section is flawless. They build the solo together in a way that comes from working together as a unit for years, no short cuts here, just intense listening and knowing each other’s vocabulary. This only comes with time on the bandstand and when it does, it is breathtaking. Again, Iyer’s horn writing brings the music to another level with the three horns playing a be-bop inspired lineage with elegance and grace.

Far From Over is a first-rate album, with a wide spanning three horn and rhythm pallet that focuses on the groove, whether its swing, hip-hop, funk, blues, classical, or something in between. There is an interlocking focus and sense of sound and form, that results in an enjoyable creative listen.

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