Vijay Iyer Trio: “Accelerando”

Like so many iconic bandleaders before him, pianist Viyaj Iyer makes albums that each come with a heady conceptual bent– and typically, you can tell the concept just from the album’s title. Historicity was an exploration of the elastic relationship between jazz past and present; Tirtha blended Western sensibilities with Indian music conventions; Solo, I suppose, speaks for itself.

Now: Accelerando. Its title refers to movement– to pace, speed, the sheer physicality of the music itself. It may be Iyer’s savviest concept yet, because it unites his braininess as a composer and bandleader to the music’s own dance-hall origins. It’s music made for the head and the heart and the feet, all at the same time. And it may be his finest hour yet.

That’s as much about the band as it is the concept. Iyer is playing once again with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore. The band has been together for a while now, and it shows. They bring intuitive interplay that’s essential to the success of these songs.

And what songs! These are, as you might expect, dance tunes– but of course, on an Iyer album, nothing is ever quite expected at all. There’s an Ellington number, “The Village of the Virgins”– and what better way for Iyer to tip his hat to the history on which his music stands? But the other songs are less expected. “Mmmhmm” was penned by eccentric/electronic mad scientist Flying Lotus– an expected selection only if you remember Iyer’s previous rendition of an MIA song. “The Star of a Story,” meanwhile, is a heavy disco tune from the band Heatwave; here it’s done as a delightful, low-slung brand of jazz-funk.

Originals sit alongside these covers, and they’re very true to the pure, noble ambitions of this project; one is declined to describe them not in terms of genre, but in terms of how they move. The title track was originally conceived for the ballet, I’m told, and it’s not hard to believe. It lends yet another layer of meaning to Accelerando‘s identity as dance music, plain and simple.

But no: For its directness and its appealing sense of physicality, nothing here is quite plain or simple. Certainly not Iyer’s take on “Human Nature”– Michael Jackon’s best ballad, but, more to the point, a song that Miles turned into a modern jazz standard. Iyer has recorded it before, but this version might be my favorite rendition of the song, ever; it’s nearly ten minutes, and it holds true to the beautiful melody of the original while offering an endless, hypnotic array of inventions and improvisations with the rhythm and the syncopation.

The opening song on the album, oddly enough, barely moves anywhere at all; “Bode” is almost an ambient piece, more about the warm hum of the acoustic instruments than it is anything else. It’s something of a warm-up before the feats of athleticism and imagination that follow, but also, perhaps, a reminder of how thoughtful this music is– how with Iyer and his band, nothing’s ever out of place or ill-conceived.


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