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Vijay Iyer: Reimagining

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There may never have been a more intellectually rarefied, more profoundly academic jazz musician than Vijay Iyer, who earned a master’s degree in physics at 22 and followed up with a Ph.D. from Berkeley in the cognitive science of music. His forbidding, complex, austere creations might be described as jazz for nerds.

Iyer is an academic, but he is entirely self-taught as a pianist and possesses the infinite free choices of the autodidact. His music contains his South Asian heritage and also a vast array of interests and influences, including diverse world musics, his own academic disciplines, rock ‘n’ roll and a preoccupation with John Coltrane (who was strongly affected by Indian music). The outcome is heady drones, swirling sonic washes and endlessly intricate counterpoint. Iyer’s music fulfills a deep-seated need of many improvised-music fans: to hear what has never been heard before. Many players promise it. Few deliver. Iyer does.

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