Review of Compassion by Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, and Tyshawn Sorey: A rare and intuitive trio.

Review of Compassion by Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, and Tyshawn Sorey: A rare and intuitive trio.

Indian-American pianist and composer Vijay Iyer’s three decades of accolades took off when, as a polymathic twentysomething, he was a California physics PhD student – at which point a sideline in classical music training and self-taught jazz piano took him into another world. Physics has always seemed to square with Iyer’s sharp-focused yet poetic musical muse – precisely analytical yet conceptually wide open, searching for fundamentals that can bend to anything from the psychology of music-making, to contemporary-classical composing, to musicology and audiovisual art.

The album artwork for Compassion.View image in fullscreen

Iyer notes that the trio consisting of bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Tyshawn Sorey cultivated their natural and spontaneous exchanges “during performances, in various settings of community and interaction” – the title symbolizing elements of openness and responsiveness crucial to improvising together in a live setting, as well as in life.

The title piece and opener introduces the band like wraiths forming from mist, in quiet bell and gong-like sounds, and soft murmurs from piano and bass. Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed (a fittingly ecstatic Iyer homage to Chick Corea’s interpretation) is unfolded over a rocking left hand and Tyshawn Sorey’s crackling polyrhythms, sparking one of several breathtakingly headlong Iyer solos on the set, coolly placing fragments and twists of the original theme into the onrush despite its scorching pace. Maelstrom and Tempest are similarly full-on, the first a rolling groove over a punchy backbeat, the second a jaggedly lyrical melody over a snaking Iyer left hand.

Linda May Han Oh, the bassist, shows her signature light-footedness and quick wit on the dreamy songs Panegyric and Where I Am. The songs Nonaah (by Roscoe Mitchell) and Free Spirits/Drummer’s Song (by John Stubblefield and Geri Allen) bring unique lyrical styles to the mix. Iyer’s unpredictable Ghostrumental transforms a gentle melody into a catalyst for passionate improvisation from all three musicians.


Also released this month is…

Satoko Fujii’s latest album, Tokyo Trio on Jet Black (Libra Records), features a unique and exciting combination of pianos. The Japanese pianist/composer’s performance is filled with energetic piano cascades, complex rhythms, and delicate improvisation exchanges. Fujii showcases her impressive ability to seamlessly transition from fast-paced soundscapes to playful melodies. Two prominent European saxophonists, John Surman from the UK and Emile Parisien from France, also have new albums. Surman’s Words Unspoken (ECM) features his quartet, which includes effects-guitarist Rob Luft, vibraphonist Rob Waring, and ethereal percussionist Thomas Strønen. The album includes 10 original songs, mostly characterized by mellow tones and spacious melodies. Parisien’s Let Them Cook (ACT) is also a blend of electronic and acoustic sounds, featuring dynamic rhythms, eerie marches, free-form melodies, and intense saxophone solos over lively jazz grooves.