"an intensive, research-oriented workshop environment for advanced improviser-composers" meant to "engage with a range of contemporary musical perspectives and practices."I have no idea what any of that could possibly mean, but I associate that kind of prose with highly-connected and privileged positions. Last year he won a "genius" grant from the MacArthur Foundation. All this makes me very curious. So let's have a bit of a listen. Here he is with his trio:
Hmm. Well. Do you hear anything even vaguely creative there? I'm afraid that I don't. It sounds just like the last one hundred modal-jazz-improv-syncopated-added-note-grooves that I have heard. My, admittedly cynical, view is that the only artistic people who get big grants and favors from big institutions like Harvard (or the Canada Council) are people who are doing something exactly like what the bureaucrats who make these decisions expect. In other words, very non-creative things.
Here is another clip where he talks about his background playing classical music on violin and his new piece for himself and string quartet. We hear some bits of it in the background and, frankly, it sounds like diluted Philip Glass.
I wish I could put up a clip of the actual piece itself, but it doesn't seem available on YouTube. The Wall Street Journal is really going all out for Vijay Iyer this week as they also have a piece up reviewing--sort of--new albums by him and Regina Carter. Here is some of what they say:
The music on "Mutations" is ruminative and compelling. The recording shifts seamlessly from austere but elegant solo-piano segments to furious moments where the strings create a swirl of sound around dark staccato keyboard figures. The dynamic diversity of the record is part of its interest. There are quiet moments that draw you in and loud propulsive ones that restore the routine distance. The suite was composed and premiered in 2005, but it has grown since. Mr. Iyer arranged this performance to give the string players considerable improvisatory leeway.This is the kind of thing that often passes for a "review" these days, but in reality it is just a "puff piece", a bit of promotional prose with description with the sole purpose of persuading you to purchase the product. It's an advertisement, in other words. The only thing available on YouTube of the new album is another ad, a "trailer":
Again, sounds like vaguely jazzy new age with strings.
I am frankly amazed that Harvard pays big bucks for this kind of "creativity", but I suppose I shouldn't be. Books and seminars on "creativity" are the stock-in-trade of scam artists the world over and, of course, the very last thing you should expect to find in these books, seminars and Harvard courses is anything resembling actual creativity.
Am I being too hard on Vijay Iyer? Let me know in the comments.
UPDATE: I got some interesting comments and one reader recommended the Hutchison Andrew Trio from Alberta for comparison. Here they are with a tune called "What To Say":
Don't know about you, but I prefer these guys. They seem to have a bit more involvement. But I am certainly no judge of jazz trios!
Here is what I thought of uploading for comparison. The Tony Genge Trio (also Canadian) and a tune Tony wrote called "West Coast Groove". That's weird, YouTube refuses to embed it, so here is the link: