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Vijay Iyer shares lessons in stillness for our turbulent time

Jimmy Katz

With a world always seemingly on the brink, Vijay Iyer offers a soothing reflection. His “Uneasy” Trio, with Linda May Han Oh on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, is making new strides as a unit at The Village Vanguard this week.

The group won Best Acoustic Small Group in the 2021 JazzTimes Critics Poll, which also recognized Iyer as Best Pianist, Oh as Best Bassist, and Sorey as Best Drummer.

But last April, when the trio released Uneasy, Iyer's seventh recording on ECM, there was a different kind of tumult in the air. After Joe Biden was elected president, we witnessed a failed coup attempt on our nation’s capital. Iyer, who is sensitively aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement, felt a particular kind of despair.

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

Fast forward to today, and another check to measure his "uneasy meter." The pianist and Harvard professor offers insights, words of wisdom, and even a message of hope.

This free-wielding conversation roams Iyer’s two-decade career as an artist and composer, which includes his gaining focus into the classical realm, which he says now occupies half his time. And to flip the script, we also get his rigorous take on why he thinks hip-hop beat pioneer J Dilla is so important, right on the heels of a new book, Dan Charnas' Dilla Time, which is the focus of the next episode of Jazz United.

Finally, I'm pleased to announce that The Checkout once again received top podcast honors in the aforementioned JazzTimes Critics poll. If you enjoy the program, don't hesitate to make a donation and support WBGO Studios.

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For more than 15 years, Simon Rentner has worked as a host, producer, broadcaster, web journalist, and music presenter in New York City. His career gives him the opportunity to cover a wide spectrum of topics including, history, culture, and, most importantly, his true passion of music from faraway places such as Europe, South America, and Africa.