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Vijay Iyer: Mutations

Release Date: 03/03/2014 
Label:  Ecm   Catalog #: 002003802  
Composer:  Vijay Iyer
Performer:  Vijay IyerMiranda CucksonKyle ArmbrustKivie Cahn-Lipman
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

IYER Spellbound and Sacrosanct, Cowrie Shells and the Shimmering Sea. Vuln, Part 2. When We’re Gone. Mutations I-X 1 Vijay Iyer (pn); 1 Miranda Cuckson, 1 Michi Wiancko (vn); 1 Kyle Armbrust (va); 1 Kivie Cahn-Lipman (vc) ECM 0020038-2 (60:18)

Read more /> This could possibly go into the jazz column, as Pico Iyer is mostly known in that world as a brilliant progressive pianist. But he’s really trans-stylistic in his technique and aesthetic appetite, and in fact the vast majority of this disc is taken up with a piano quintet of classical instrumentation. Yes, it uses improvisatory structures throughout, but the same can be said of any number of composers, from Cage to Riley, and ever more frequently with younger ones. So hopefully any categorical carps are dispensed with here.

Iyer establishes his improvising/performer bona fides at the beginning with two short piano pieces, the first with a strong lyric/Romantic bent, the other a more austere meditation with an accompaniment of dark and miniscule electronic sounds. Then Mutations takes up the main stage. If one didn’t know in advance that the work—a series of 10 bagatelles—involves extensive performer choice, one would probably take it for a postmodern/postminimal work, mostly in fixed notation, as the authority of all the players is so great. But if one listens carefully with that foreknowledge, one starts to hear the interactions between the piano and strings, and sense the real-time decision-making occurring in the dialogue. This is most evident to my ear in IV, where micro-ostinatos in the strings create a repetitive texture against which the piano plays one of its more soloistic passages. The work is nervy in several ways—the piano doesn’t even enter until the third movement, and there is often a subtle electronic component, serving as a backdrop, at times almost like an animal in the background panting or scratching. VIII is a taut web of furious interlocking motives that reminded me of late Ligeti. The end is elegiac, with light knockings and tappings underpinning the piano part. In the whole work, there are more modal repetitive sections that seem tied to minimalism, subtle but never overdone jazz/blues licks, incisive rhythms reminiscent of Bartók, and some of the more “automatic” formalisms that feel as though from the experimental Ives.

The final word is that this feels like music exceptionally of this time, blending traditions of improvisation and precise notation seamlessly, demanding and getting creative input for the final product from all performers, and integrating technology in a meaningful but unpretentious manner. Fresh and imaginative, with excellent performances all around.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Spellbound and Sacrosanct, Cowrie Shells and the Shimmering Sea by Vijay Iyer
Performer:  Vijay Iyer (Piano)
Vuln, Part 2 by Vijay Iyer
Performer:  Vijay Iyer (Piano)
When We’re Gone by Vijay Iyer
Performer:  Vijay Iyer (Piano)
Mutations by Vijay Iyer
Performer:  Miranda Cuckson (Violin), Vijay Iyer (Piano), Kyle Armbrust (Viola),
Kivie Cahn-Lipman (Cello)

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