Vijay Iyer — Solo (ACT, 2010)
Look, I understand people’s love for Michael Jackson, and I can respect it — but only when we’re talking about the driven, funky Michael Jackson, not the diluted lite-rock version.
The track comes up first on Solo, and possibly because I don’t know the song, I didn’t recognize what was happening. (I’ll sometimes listen to an album “blind” at first, without consulting the track list.) I heard a lyrical, pretty piece — very ECM-like — with a recognizably repeating bassline and a rustling, shifting feeling. A peaceful air, but busy with lots of little notes, lost of activity.
All right, it’s pretty good. And then the chorus kicked in. I’d been tricked into actually liking the song.
In Iyer’s earlier work, I’d focused on the steely modernity. Solo presents a more lyrical side, forcing you to concentrate more on the details of Iyer’s playing. I don’t want to call the music new-agey, because I tend to use that term as an insult. But it’s got a contemplative melodic sense, while still sometimes peppering the ears with 32nd-note teletype raindrops.
About half of the album is covers, including a couple of slowly savored Duke Ellington pieces. When it comes to Iyer’s own compositions, you get more of that serious, lyrical bent, where the music hovers and opens up space for thinking.
But Iyer still has that stormy, forceful style at his beck and call. The closing “One for Blount” (a Sun Ra nod) is one example. So is “Epistrophy,” a particularly interesting cover that gets reflected in a cracked mirror, with clumps of Monkian chords distorted and flung about. The theme is immediately familiar even though it comes to your ears in shards. “Autoscopy” includes some scattery fast work but gives way to a flowing, rainy-day cascading, used as backdrop for a slower melody.