sat 20/07/2019

CD: Vijay Iyer - Tirtha | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Vijay Iyer - Tirtha

CD: Vijay Iyer - Tirtha

Iyer's latest trio project is music to enchant and surprise

The imposing cover of Vijay Iyer's 'Tirtha': Anish Kapoor's 'Untitled' (2004)Dave Morgan

A recent Grammy nominee for his 2009 album Historicity, composer-pianist Vijay Iyer is one of an increasing number of young jazz artists who refuses to be corralled by genre. Iyer's work traverses a continuum that embraces everything from hip hop to orchestral music. Tirtha, his latest project, sees three great traditions seamlessly flowing into one another to create something vital and entirely personal.

The album presents a fascinating three-way dialogue between jazz, Hindustani (north-Indian classical) and Carnatic (south-Indian classical) music. Also featuring tabla virtuoso Nitin Mitta and guitarist-composer Prasanna, the trio completely eschews that most freighted of terms, "fusion", a genre that often takes the worst excesses of two musical styles and bolts them together in a crude, Frankensteinian way. Think, for example, of the navel-gazing, anthemic bombast of the dullest kind of jazz-rock. Iyer is far too intelligent and discerning a musician to succumb to these temptations, and Tirtha never once falls prey to fusion's bathetic tropes.

From the propulsive polyrhythmic layerings of album opener “Duality”, to the plaintive, engulfing beauty of “Abundance”, to the churning moto perpetuo of “Gauntlet”, it's impossible not to be swept along by the dramatic power of the trio's music.

Iyer has spoken of feeling a "jolt of recognition" at their initial rehearsal – they first played together in 2007, the album was recorded the following year - and the remarkable playing does seem to be wedded to a deep consanguinity of mind and aesthetic purpose. This is heard to especially moving effect in the concluding "Entropy and Time". Here, casting a kind of lambent glow over the entire track, Mitta's tabla playing can only be marvelled at, with percussive flourishes of quite mind-bending dexterity.

Achieving a subtle equipoise of improvisational freedom and compositional rigour, Tirtha is a work of singular imagination. Just don't call it Indo-Jazz.

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