M.I.A. fans are treated to "Galang" in a hardbound big beat with summarily contrasting bright or dark piano lines, while Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother" sports a tom-tom-fed New Orleans syncopation contrasting Iyer's strident piano. The suggestive, introspective original "Helix" is different for the pianist in a diffuse setting, and he conversely incorporates a circle-the-wagons approach on the romantic Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim evergreen "Somewhere," juxtaposed against a bluesy swing, again atypical.
Pianist Vijay Iyer is happy to stun you, to knock you into awe, to blow your mind. He brings technique, imagination, and wide perspective to his art. Historicity, the first recording wholly devoted to Iyer’s trio with bassist Stephen Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, is a jewel. This trio, along with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, has been wildly productive on records and live, but Historicity feels in every respect like the “statement” album that Iyer has been driving toward for more than a decade.
Indian-American Vijay Iyer was a Yale student before M-Base sax pioneer Steve Coleman hired him as a self-taught piano sideman, and a fascination with the spiritual/emotional implications of those rigorously rational disciplines and the patterns they identify drives his work. But Iyer is the antithesis of a contained and cerebral artist. Historicity, for the traditional jazz format of an acoustic piano trio, features fewer explicit contrasts of tonality and extremities of drama than Iyer's more familiar duets with saxist Rudresh Mahanthappa, but it offers a different agenda – the music that has absorbed the 37-year-old over the years of his evolution.
The classic Bill Evans Trio, with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, is sometimes cited as the best jazz piano trio ever. It's not a point I'd argue-- they were otherworldly. On Portrait in Jazz it doesn't even sound like three musicians playing. The record meets your ear like a feeling meets your brain-- you can't grasp it but you know it's there.