Tag Archives: vijay iyer

Top Five Albums of 2021 – Nikhil’s List

31 Dec

Above all else in 2021, there are two disappointments that naturally loom heavy. I can’t say that they don’t put a damper on wrap-up lists like this or that I don’t personally wish they were better, but to focus on them is to lose sight of a year that has had some particularly bright moments for music. We had a stellar debut album, some top-notch jazz and the consolidation of a rapper who has unquestionably found himself.

5. Tyler, The Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

It’s still a little novel to see a mature Tyler. There was never any question when he started out that he was not only immensely talented but also a very intelligent and very sensitive young man, but did need to squint to see it through all the antics. Now, you would have to be blind to miss it.

Pairing with DJ Drama was a good start. The two feed off each other, each bringing out more fun, chaotic energy from the other and the occasional guest spot builds further upon that. It’s when he gets to telling stories though that the album is at its best though. His narrative of his friend’s girlfriend in “WILSHIRE” is one of the strongest stories that rap has ever dropped and the kind of thing that only Tyler could make. If you only listen to a single song from 2021, make it this one.

Read our full review here.

4. Low – HEY WHAT

I tend to see slowcore as soundscapes. They feel like murals, not miniatures. It’s music that you can see with unfocused eyes. HEY WHAT is music of that scale and yet intricate in its detail. There are thousands of thoughts, each expressed in tiny spaces. It’s very clever and very understated and somehow willing to reward you no matter how you approach it.

Read our full review here.

3. Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

I’m not young anymore. I haven’t even felt young in a long time. SOUR wears its youth on its sleeve. This is about coming of age, of throwing yourself at a boy who doesn’t treat you right and of feeling your feelings. Olivia Rodrigo goes from heartbroken to honest to gloriously petty with the speed and the intensity that only teenagers can bring to bear and she does it all with startlingly clever lyrics and undeniable music. SOUR is nothing short of a phenomenon.

Read our full review here.

2. Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey- Uneasy

You just can never really get a handle on Uneasy. This is an album that always stays just a little out of reach, that always keeps you just enough off balance that you cannot quite find your feet. It’s exhilarating in the way of an off-kilter roundabout and just as quick to leave you dizzy.

Jazz is at its best when it holds to its political roots and Uneasy does just that. It takes all of the disorientation that it builds with such intelligence and skill and uses that to remind you how unsettling the present day is and that icy water to the face is what makes this album truly excellent.

Read our full reveiw here.

1. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

I’m honestly still a little surprised that this collaboration happened, but it’s not at all surprising that the pieces all fit together so well. This style of nature-infused, spiritual music has offshoots in all of the styles of music represented here. However, it’s still magical to see it all come together.

It’s evocative and yet fully detailed. You can feel the forest and every living being all at once and yet the austerity of nature gets tempered by a wonderfully human saxophone and so the whole lifts you further and further to the point where even the silence after the album finishes is suffused with its glow.

Read our full review here.

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Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey – Uneasy

22 Jun

Uneasy certainly delivers on the title. This is jazz that is very good at putting you off your ease. It’s always got something to surprise you with. It’s very skilled jazz and very listenable for all the sharpness. It doesn’t thrust itself on you, but it always has something interesting to say and when you pay attention to it, it’s very good at sweeping you away. You’re just compelled to follow it from point to point and see what comes next.

There’s a wonderful loudness in “Touba.” It makes you sit up straight and enervates you. “Drummer’s Song” holds a single pattern for an unsettlingly long time while threading lots of different things around it. It’s a startling and captivating effect. There’s great chemistry too. There’s a wonderful bass solo by Linda Oh in “Night and Day” that transitions smoothly a piano solo that moves smoothly into a drum solo that stretches into an excellent play with the piano and some very understated bass work. It lets everything settle for a moment and then picks things back up with excellent energy and finally ends beautifully.

Uneasy takes this intelligence and sharpness and it’s ability to disorient the listener and uses it for meaning. The political statements running through this album are powerful and reinforced by the shock of the music. It elevates the album and takes it from merely an excellent jazz album to essential listening for anyone at all interested in jazz.

Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn – The Transitory Poems

5 Apr

The most striking thing about The Transitory Poems is just how spirited it is. Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn are both known for how far avant they are of the garde and putting the two of them together for a live concert in the Liszt Academy in Budapest is the kind of set-up that is bound to bear fruit.

The amount of chemistry is staggering though. Two musicians so dissimilar have no right to work together so well. For that matter, an album so improvisational has no right to work so well. There are admittedly a couple of points were the momentum peters out a little and the musicians seem to be taking stock of where they are, but those are the exceptions in an album of the impressive energy of pieces like “Kairos.” At points, this energy becomes nothing short of chaotic. “Luminous Brew” is Pandæmonium if Hell were beautiful. The sound cascades and crashes. For a record with just two pianos, this in a very physical listen.

The clarity of just having two pianos works very well. The music is often exceedingly pretty, but always very bright and very sharp. Like crushed glass under a spotlight, it dazzles. It’s a jagged and difficult album and valuable for that. The artists constantly surprise and their deftness in resolving themes and then picking them up again is exceptional. This is not for the less experienced of jazz aficionados, but it is deeply rewarding for those up to the challenge.

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