Vijay Iyer Plays Up a Storm

… Actually, it was Tyshawn Sorey (drums) brewing up a lot of the big, big sound Friday night at San Jose’s Theater on San Pedro Square. But Stephan Crump (bass) and Vijay Iyer (piano) did their parts too.

crump-soreyI went with my daughter, her first-ever jazz show. Rather than overexplain the music to her (heads, solos, the long stretches of improvising), I gave her only one bit of advice: If you find yourself getting bored, start watching the drummer. I’ve found the drums to be the most surprising and educational instrument when it comes to the visual aspect of a music show. You can see what the drummer is doing (as opposed to piano, depending on your angle) and understand it (as opposed to saxophone, which is still a mystery to me) — and for the non-musician, the amount of stuff going on behind that kit is astounding.

So, I told her to watch the drummer. Thing is, it hadn’t occurred to me that the drummer was going to be Tyshawn Sorey. Whoa.

Sorey is basically the drummer from The Matrix. He’s big and strong and can produce a deafening sound, but he’s also impossibly fast. His solos are breathtaking, but what’s even more impressive is when he pours it on in his comping, like hyperkinetic techno percussion gone organic. In Friday’s show, I loved the polyrhythms that built up, with Sorey overlaying his own geometry onto whatever Iyer and Crump were doing, or vice versa. There’s a wealth of math behind all that clatter.

I’d had reservations about my daughter’s reaction to the long song times, but it turned out she had a great time, primarily because of Sorey.

iyerI don’t want to sell Crump short, either. He got some good tone out of some kind of dwarf bass, and his playing was the rich, complex brew that Iyer’s music demands. A couple of quieter moments laying down glissandos stood out in my head, and his solos were dynamic and captivating.

As for Iyer’s actual music, it’s gotten more melodic since his days (and Sorey’s) with the trio Fieldwork, but a lot of that stern steel-and-glass sound emerges in their live performance, as Iyer’s more tumultuous side gets freer reign. Live trio shows of any kind also let the bass and drums stand out more, and Crump and Sorey certainly took advantage of that, making for a forceful, dynamic show.

The trio will be playing again Saturday night, March 16, at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz.