Got Live If You Want It:
Vijay Iyer, MacArthur “Genius” Grant Recipient


Vijay Iyer Trio
[ exclusive to D:O ] : 2009

VI, piano; Stephan Crump, bass; Marcus Gilmore, drums.

We’re thrilled that longtime friend of the site Vijay Iyer just won a prestigious MacArthur “Genius” grant! To mark this incredible honor, we’re re-upping one of his guest posts where he shared two exclusive live tracks from his trio. We were  bowled over by these pieces at the time and they still startle. They show his trio  stretching out and transforming two older tunes. A small taste of why Vijay’s a deserving winner.

Here’s Vijay…

Your hosts invited me back for a guest post, and in celebration of our album release I am pleased to offer some exclusive live tracks of my trio with longtime colleagues Marcus Gilmore and Stephan Crump.

Roscoe Mitchell once observed that one’s music should contain opposites. Somewhere between that observation and James Brown’s infinitely extensible “bridges,” I was inspired to compose diptychs like the two pieces offered here.

“Questions of Agency” and “Cardio” were both composed early in this decade. “Questions” appeared in quartet format on Blood Sutra (2003) and is featured on a 2007 Youtube clip as well. The piece was written after Henry Threadgill had shown me some parts of his toolkit: first you permute a seed chord or cluster to produce a closed family of chords; then you enumerate the intervals that appear in this family, yielding an “intervallic mode,” a set of intervals that form the basis of improvisation. This piece is my misreading of those tactics. I built a bridge section around a cycling bass line as a moment of relief, but in this version that bridge engulfs about half of the track, almost gaining its own autonomy.

“Cardio” first appeared on Reimagining (2005). I’ve never really been able to play it right. In fact, we tried to record it for Blood Sutra (hence the title) but I just couldn’t master that recurring odd cellular run. I still get it wrong most of the time. But this piece lets us achieve other things: a contrast between a light diatonic space and a murky chromatic one, a velocity of cross-rhythms, an arc of intensity finally coming to a boil.

These versions were recorded during the group’s pivotal European tour last February. I won’t call it the birth of this trio; that would put a too-sharp point on a development that had already been in process for years. However, I think it is evident that we are arriving at something in these versions, some newfound understanding of the ground rules: the use of extremes, the awareness of texture and dynamics, the abrupt shifts and systematic expansions – the containing of opposites.

I hope this music gives you something you can use. Thanks for listening.

As the tunes above attest, Vijay’s trio has recently hit its stride. They continue that hot streak with Historicity, which includes reworked originals alongside stirring covers of “Galang” by M.I.A., “Smokestack” by Andrew Hill, “Dogon A.D.” by Julius Hemphill, and “Big Brother” by Stevie Wonder. For more info on the album, check out this YouTube clip

The cover art for Historicity is Anish Kapoor’s model for “Memory” (above). It’s a fitting image for music that both stops you in your tracks, and encourages looking both forward and back.

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