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Vijay Iyer: Tragicomic

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The pianist Vijay Iyer has a mathematical mind; in his compositions there is much to take in. Structurally, they’re complex. Iyer is rarely satisfied with one rhythm or one harmony within a tune. Add to that his strikingly original pianistic voice and his rewarding partnership with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, and you have the makings of a fruitful career.

Iyer’s new quartet album, Tragicomic, is another stellar installment in his oeuvre. The title comes from Cornel West’s thoughts about the blues aesthetic, and its dichotomous nature suits the recording. The music is a marriage of intellect and power, of brains and brawn. Iyer has absorbed Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, Matthew Shipp and others, and that fact comes through whether he plays a burner or a ballad. He and Mahanthappa explore contrasting harmonies as often as they can, and they get up in each other’s grills.

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