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Vijay Iyer Captures a Prophetic and Present Sound on 'Uneasy'

Vijay Iyer
Bart Babinski
/
ECM

Vijay Iyer's latest album, Uneasy, is a striking document of synergy and awareness.

Iyer, along with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, musically calls attention to a global state of angst and disarray. The music is dark and contemplative, but the rhythmic drive also suggests energy, optimism and forward motion. "Artists end up being right at the forefront of change," Iyer says. "They're always going to be right on the edge finding out what is possible."

The trio of Iyer, Sorey and Oh possess a deft command of the instruments, yet this trio's musical acumen lies in their ability to breathe together. The steady pulse of "Retrofit"; the rhythmic re-imagining of Joe Henderson's arrangement of "Night and Day"; and the blues and roots excavated in "Combat Breathing" all flow with a living, human sound. Recorded at the end of 2019, Uneasy feels just as prophetic as it feels of the present.

WBGO's "Let Me Tell You 'Bout It" w/ Vijay Iyer

Iyer's ability to look ahead and embrace tradition is steeped in a long line of mentors and collaborators that include members of the AACM, M-Base and Asian Improv aRts collective, and are no strangers to art as social commentary. Iyer also exhibits a self determination and willingness to pass along musical wisdom just as masters Roscoe Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith, Steve Coleman and Amiri Baraka did with him.

In this chat, Iyer is also clear on the need for self-reliance, community and access to arts in the post-pandemic musical landscape. "We're a part of something larger than ourselves," he says. "We have to take care of each other — to put that first."

Vijay Iyer Trio - Combat Breathing (from the album 'Uneasy') | ECM Records

Uneasy is available now on ECM.

Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.