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Album Review: Vijay Iyer's 'Solo'

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Vijay Iyer Solo
Courtesy of ACT Records
Pianist Vijay Iyer, whose trio album Historicity made my list of Favorite Albums of 2009, presents works for solo piano on Solo. Iyer’s pianism, grand and gnarly, is often accompanied and agitated by the machine-like drumming of powerhouses Marcus Gilmore or Tyshawn Sorey. Alone, his music has equal gravity, with added elements of introspection and humor.

Iyer’s angular and combustive style fits into various musical containers, from the hip-hop electronica of lyricist Mike Ladd, to the bulging and volatile atmospheres of the trio Field Work. Paving the way for jazz postmodernists, he sees pop music and free jazz alike as equal firm foundations on which to build. Solo emphasizes this view, by including covers of pieces by Michael Jackson, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Steve Coleman.

Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” opens the album with flowing chords and a sweet, melancholy mood similar to the 1983 original on Thriller but with a subtle rhythmic transformation. On Monk’s “Epistrophy” Iyer strays from the original to take a driving, gloomy approach. The music under Iyer’s fingers loses some of Monk’s tickling dissonances, but the interpretation is unique and broad, incorporating a balance of ferocity and elegant, floating harmonies.

The highlight of the album is “Black and Tan Fantasy,” which Duke Ellington and trumpeter Bubber Miley recorded in 1927. This swelling and playful version is stylistically nostalgic, although involving some of Iyer’s dissonances and rhythmic play over a traditional stride pattern.

The musical scope of Solo is expansive, consisting of bubbling atonal improvised runs, impressionistic peals, traditional jazz, and icy landscapes drawing from modern jazz and contemporary classical music.

Release Date:

August 31st, 2010 on ACT Records


  1. Human Nature
  2. Epistrophy
  3. Darn That Dream
  4. Black & Tan Fantasy
  5. Prelude: Heartpiece
  6. Autoscopy
  7. Patterns
  8. Desiring
  9. Games
  10. Flaurette Africaine
  11. One For Blount

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