Keyboardist-composer Vijay Iyer's energized sequence of ECM releases has garnered copious international praise. His fifth for the label, Far From Over, featuring his dynamically commanding sextet and released on CD and 2 x Vinyl LPs finds Iyer reaching a new peak.
Furthering an artistry that led The Guardian to call Iyer "one of the world's most inventive new-generation jazz pianists" and The New Yorker to describe him as "extravagantly gifted, brilliantly eclectic.", Far From Over features this sextet of virtuoso improvisers with horn players Graham Haynes, Steve Lehman and Mark Shim alongside rhythm partners Stephan Crump and Tyshawn Sorey leveraging a wealth of jazz history even as it pushes boldly forward.
The music ranges from the thrillingly explosive ("Down to the Wire," "Good on the Ground") to the cathartically elegiac ("For Amiri Baraka," "Threnody"), with melodic hooks, entrancing atmosphere, rhythmic muscle and an elemental spirit all part of the allure. "This group has a lot of fire in it, but also a lot of earth, because the tones are so deep, the timbres and textures," Iyer says. "There's also air and water ? the music moves."
Personnel: Vijay Iyer (piano, Fender Rhodes); Graham Haynes (cornet, flugelhorn, electronics); Steve Lehman (alto saxophone); Mark Shim (tenor saxophone); Stephan Crump (double-bass); Tyshawn Sorey (drums)
AMG Review - Matt Collar 4.5. Stars
Pianist Vijay Iyer's fifth album for ECM, 2017's fiery sextet date Far from Over, follows his superb 2016 collaboration with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke. Where that album found Iyer and Smith engaged in a deeply interconnected series of often abstract chamber improvisations, here we find him exploding outward, but with no less interconnectedness between him and his bandmates.
Joining Iyer is his adept sextet featuring cornetist Graham Haynes, alto saxophonist Steve Lehman, tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, bassist Stephan Crump, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Together, they play with an exuberance and a flair for group interplay that brings to mind such classic ensembles as Miles Davis' late-'60s groups and Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band. The Hancock influence explicitly comes to mind here on cuts like the eerie "Wake" and the spacy "End of the Tunnel," in which Haynes' cornet, filtered through a soupy, acidic delay, swims like an aquatic alien through Iyer's endless Fender Rhodes and piano soundscapes.
Similarly, the hip-hop slow-burn-funk of "Nope" finds Haynes, Shim, and Lehman dropping dissonantly soulful melodic statements like shards of glass onto Iyer's warm Rhodes bed. Elsewhere, Iyer's group dives headlong into a tantalizing cross-cultural aesthetic on cuts like "Far from Over," with its edgy, Eastern European-meets-Indian classical folk dance rhythm, and "Good on the Ground," in which Sorey deftly bashes his way through the song's roiling post-bop raga. No less engaging are the album's more straight-ahead tracks like the rambunctious post-bop swinger "Down to the Wire" and the unnerving and elegiac "Threnody," both of which draw upon the far-eyed spirituality and muscular improvisational style of late-'60s John Coltrane. What's particularly engaging about Far from Over is Iyer and his band's sense of danger and risk-taking.
Ultimately, it's that balance of harmonically adventurous exploration and no-holds-barred blowing that make Far from Over nothing short of thrilling.
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