VIJAY IYER LIKES TO THROW listeners a little off balance. The ingredients on Iyer’s latest album, Historicity (2009), are basic—a piano, bass and drums—but the music refuses to settle into familiar grooves. Melodies from famous songs are entirely transformed; bursts of percussive sound come from unexpected parts of the piano; the bassist creates eerie slow slides on the strings; and the beats never quite fall where you think they will.
Stay inside the music for a while, though, and the melodies begin to emerge, the pulse is felt beneath the shifting rhythms. Each piece keeps developing, explaining itself. A listener’s freedom to lose the thread and then, with attention, find it again is part of the appeal and excitement of Iyer’s music, and jazz in general.
Historicity is a collection of such discoveries, both in Iyer’s own compositions and his radical reworkings of other artists’ songs. After six previous albums, all well-received, along with six collaborations, this one is bringing him a new level of acclaim and the attention of a wider audience. The Los Angeles Times—which along with several other publications named Historicity the best jazz album of the year—wrote that “no record defined the jazz landscape in 2009 quite like this release on a German label from a New York-based piano trio led by the son of Indian immigrants.”