Vijay Iyer's Tragicomic to be Released on Sunnyside Records

Imagine a pianist with Thelonious Monk's angularity, Cecil Taylor's force, and Andrew Hill's genius, coupled with a profound compositional mind that extends, elevates, and elaborates on the traditions of jazz, world, and Indian music, and you'll get Vijay Iyer, the most critically acclaimed improvisationally oriented artist of this young century. Named the # 1 Rising Star Jazz Artist of the Year and the # 1 Rising Star Composer of the Year in Down Beat magazine's 2006 and 2007 International Critics' Poll, this sensational South Asian/American pianist/composer/author/educator has performed and recorded with an impressive roster of stars, from Steve Coleman and John Zorn, to poet Amiri Baraka and the rap duo dead prez, and has presented a number of astonishing CDs as a leader and co-leader.

Any artist blessed with such far-reaching gifts will have something to say. And on Tragicomic, his Sunnyside debut, Iyer delivers a stupendous sonic commentary on our contemporary world. With him is his fabulous quartet, featuring alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Stephan Crump, and drummer Marcus Gilmore, the grandson of the legendary drum giant Roy Haynes. This twelve-track recording is the augmented version of a previous piece of the same name commissioned by Chamber Music America. “Cornel West decodes the blues aesthetic as a tragicomic sensibility stemming from a sustained encounter with arguably history's greatest, cruelest absurdity--the kind in which 'even ultimate purpose and objective order are called into question ...'" Iyer writes in the CD's liner notes. “In our perilous moment of global transition, we have everything to learn from this sensibility. A tragicomic outlook can ease our pains of metamorphosis and help us dream the next phase into being. That's how and why this music was made."

Iyer's music mirrors the complex political, economic, religious and social challenges in today's world, which results in a kind of “quantum jazz:" a poly-tempoed approach, where two listeners can hear two different time signatures at the same point in a composition. The Coltrane-coded “The Weight of Things" and “Becoming" open and close the CD. The four selections from the commissioned work include the florid, “Aftermath," the dark, algorhythmic “Without Lions," the metronomic, avant-rock number “Machine Days" and the foreboding “Threnody." Other tracks include the introspective “Mehndi," contrasted by the mockingly frenetic “Macaca Please," which refers to an ethnic slur uttered a couple of years ago by a Virginia senator. The para-reggae pulsations of Bud Powell's “Comin' Up" is the first of four trio selections (minus Mahanthappa), followed by “Window Text" and “Age of Everything," which swing with syncopations that stretch from South America to the subcontinent. The waltzy “I'm All Smiles"- the CD's only solo piano selection--highlights Iyer's expansive command of the jazz piano tradition.

Born to Asian Indian immigrant parents in Albany, NY in 1971, Iyer began his quest for the mastery of the piano at the age of six. Largely self-taught, he is also a true polymath in the science, arts, and humanities, with a B.S. in Mathematics and Physics from Yale, and a Masters in Physics and an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. He's released a number of intelligent recordings: Memorophila (Asian Improv, 1995); Architextures (Asian Improv, 1998), Panoptic Modes (Red Giant, 2000), Blood Sutra (Artists House, 2003), In What Language?, an extended work with poet Mike Ladd (Pi Records, 2003), Reimagining (Savoy Jazz, 2005), Raw Materials, a duet with Rudresh Mahanthappa (Savoy Jazz, 2006); Still Life with Commentator, another collaboration with Mike Ladd (Savoy Jazz, 2007), and Door with the experimental trio Fieldwork (Pi Records, 2008).

Iyer received the 2003 CalArts Alpert Award in the Arts, the 2006 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships, and project grants from the Rockefeller Foundation Map Fund, Chamber Music America, and the New York State Council on the Arts. He is a faculty member at New York University, and the School for Improvisational Music, and the New School University. His writings have been published in the journals Music Perception, Journal of Consciousness Studies, and Current Musicology, and in the anthologies Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies and Sound Unbound.

As Tragicomic aurally illustrates, Vijay Iyer is, and will continue to be, a major musical force to be reckoned with.

Tragicomic is being released on Sunnyside Records on April 22, simultaneously with Fieldwork's new CD Door (on Pi Recordings).

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