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Vijay Iyer moves from Fairport to greatness


Vijay Iyer Sextet, "Far From Over" (ECM).

The journey from the Rochester suburb of Fairport to the national aesthetic forefront has, by no means, proven impossible. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman was the most famous to have accomplished it. But so has the great Amer-Indian composer and jazz pianist (and Harvard professor) Vijay Iyer.

Iyer has no trouble in the advance notes to this disc connecting it with international politics: "There's a resistance in this music, an insistence on dignity and compassion, a refusal to be silenced. The music can hit hard while having a searching quality, a yearning -- which is essentially a blues aesthetic that has been abstracted and embodied in different ways by different players in the group. There's a defiance there, though it's balanced by a writing the sextet achieves. Defiance and unity, somehow together -- that's the sound this band captures to me."

It will capture others too which will underline that Iyer's gifts, along with playing and composing, also involve articulating as eloquently what he does as Wynton Marsalis, when he's on a roll.

When we first heard Iyer, he had burned and blasted his way into contemporary jazz consciousness in a quartet with fellow Amer-Indian master Rudresh Mahanthappa. Almost as powerful here is Iyer's music here with alto saxophonist Steve Lehman and tenor saxophonist Mark Shim. The cornet player in this stellar group is Roy Haynes' son Graham. The rhythm section of drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Stephen Crump is formidable. But then it's a formidable working jazz group.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

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