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Vijay Iyer: Henry Threadgill Gets A Fascinating Makeover

Vijay Iyer and his trio masterfully articulate a complex composition's exuberant, zigzagging melody.
Jimmy Katz
Vijay Iyer and his trio masterfully articulate a complex composition's exuberant, zigzagging melody.

Trying to scale down the music of Henry Threadgill's early-'90s Very Very Circus ensemble in a piano-trio format is like trying to realize Star Wars as a stage monologue. The Very Very Circus not only performed fascinating, widescreen music — brimming with polyrhythmic propulsion, tonal oddities and barbed melodies — but its instrumentation also showcased an eccentric lineup which found room for two electric guitars, a tuba, French horn, violins and assorted percussion.

Nevertheless, Vijay Iyer does the nearly impossible with his captivating makeover of Threadgill's "Little Pocket Size Demons," from Iyer's forthcoming album Accelerando. Against Marcus Gilmore's serrated drum patterns and Stephan Crump's shrill arco bass melodies and thrusting bass lines, Iyer masterfully articulates the composition's exuberant, zigzagging melody. The collective improvisation grows more vigorous, yet the rhythm section allocates enough space for Iyer to leap forward with a capricious solo, marked by rumbling turnaround passages, jolting harmonies and jabbing interjections. At the height of all the jittery activity, the trio captures much of the choreographed chaos that gave the Very Very Circus' work such a super-charged cinematic feel.

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John Murph
John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for BETJazz.com. He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.