Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Vijay Iyer's Tirtha writes the textbook on Indian/jazz fusion

Those of you who read my postings with any regularity will know that I'm not apt to confine myself to one particular type of music or linger too long on one particular musical approach.

Which is why it bemuses me that I haven't  incorporated any jazz music into my canon, or why I haven't made mention of a character as intriguing as Vijay Iyer.

Vijay, is, as you might guess, of Indian descent, but calls New York his birthplace.

If you're not  too keen on modern jazz, you could find a much worse starting point than Iyer. The self taught pianist has established a mammoth reputation among jazz fans and critics. His music has generally had somewhat elegant feel; it has typically given off a feeling of high intellect, without ever becoming pompous or over the top.

On Tirtha, Iyer proposes a curious experiment - free flowing western jazz melded with the music of classical India. He has a pair of buddies joining him here - Prasanna, who plays guitar and does some vocal work, and Nitin Mitta, laying down percussion by way of his tabla.

Despite what seems to be two wildly clashing musical styles, the trio comes together as a tight cohesive unit. Everything complements each other perfectly, and their technical ability with their instruments is astounding. Tirtha is an album best appreciated by someone who has a solid understanding of the nuances and subtleties of the musicianship.

If there's a downside it's that there isn't much feeling or emotion in the music but there is a distinctly academic mood to the recording, sounding like something you could expect to hear in a museum or as a background to a philisophical discussion. It doesn't inspire the warmest of feelings but it is unique.

But is it worth it to put the extra effort in to get what Iyer is trying to put forth in this album? For long time Iyer fans, you already know what to expect. For newcomers, this isn't the album to start with.

The east meets west blend is fascinating, but it's important to get a sense of what Iyer is like on his own by picking up his solo record, Solo, from last year or 2009's Historicity. 

Score: 79/100

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