Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn – The Transitory Poems – ECM 

by | May 20, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn – The Transitory Poems – [TrackList follows] – ECM 2644, 74:11 [3/15/19] ****:

Constructive collaboration is the crux of jazz. That’s the heart and soul of Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn’s twin-piano outing, the 74-minute, eight-track live performance, The Transitory Poems. The two keyboardists initially met as members of saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell’s band, Note Factory; and contributed to Mitchell’s 2002 album, Song for My Sister (Pi Recordings). In the context of Mitchell’s work ethic, the two pianists learned about pursuing music without boundaries and the importance of shaping material in real time, without rehearsal or pre-conceived ideas. That philosophy grounds Taborn and Iyer’s subsequent solo careers (Taborn has 11 releases as leader or co-leader; Iyer has over 20 as leader or co-leader). All this shared and unshared history permeates The Transitory Poems, which was recorded live March 2018 at the concert hall of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest.

The Transitory Poems consists of in-the-moment pieces, some of which act as tributes to influences such as pianists Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams and Geri Allen, as well as painter and sculptor Jack Whitten. The album title comes from an interview quote from Taylor. Abrams, Allen, Whitten and Taylor passed away during the year or so leading up to the Budapest concert, thus the four were in Taborn and Iyer thought’s or lying in their subconscious minds. Listening back to the recording, the two players heard the music as “a series of homages” to the great artists who had inspired them.

The pianists start the set with the longest piece, “Life Line (Seven Tensions).” This is an intricate application of free-flowing creativity which illustrates how Iyer and Taborn can extemporaneously compose as they play. Over the course of 13 minutes, they fluctuate from dimly-lit tints to lighter hues while transitioning from single lines to counterpointed chord changes, hinting at or touching jazz, pre-jazz and neo-classical music. The shortest cut is “Sensorium,” dedicated to Whitten, who was sometimes stimulated by jazz and stated he wanted to transform John Coltrane’s sheets of sound into sheets of light. During the four-minute “Sensorium” Taborn and Iyer craft tiered music which flits with the kind of abstract motifs which saturated Whitten’s work, which had a sense of immediacy and juxtaposition in the creative process. The 11-minute “Clear Monolith” is for pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, who co-founded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (or AACM). “Clear Monolith” doesn’t try to echo Abrams but there is a perception of Abram’s intellectual curiosity and fortitude. “Clear Monolith” begins with a minimalist section using both piano’s bottom and upper keyboard areas, which provides an interesting tonal contrast. Gradually, Taborn and Iyer escalate the emotional eminence with vibrant and progressively assertive improvisations, which are balanced by the duo’s use of open space and single-note directness.

Iyer and Taborn conclude with music which reflects their esteem for Taylor and Allen. Taylor is the dedicatee for the evolving, darkly-shaded “Luminous Brew,” which has a measured and smartly portentous stance different than Taylor’s music, although over the course of eight minutes Iyer and Taborn layer in some rhythmic moments akin to Taylor’s style. Taborn and Iyer end with the three-part, 13-minute medley, “Meshwork/Libation/When Kabuya Dances,” a multi-stratum construction which is potent and animated, with musical instances which showcase the duo’s knotty interaction. The medley’s unconventional oscillations almost abruptly dissolve as Iyer and Taborn interlock with a sublime interpretation of Allen’s glistening and sensitive “When Kabuya Dances,” which can be found on Allen’s 1985 LP, The Printmakers, Allen’s debut solo record. Allen’s version was rollicking and roiling, whereas Taborn and Iyer’s adaptation is more reserved. The Transitory Poems is an album which unfolds. It can be challenging in some ways but is never overtly taxing or difficult to enjoy. Listening to Taborn and Iyer move through one tune to another is a transcendent experience. The precise and crystalline engineering and mixing add to the listener’s involvement, a hallmark of ECM’s aesthetic.

Vijay Iyer – piano; Craig Taborn – piano

Life Line (Seven Tensions)
Shake Down
Clear Monolith
Luminous Brew
Meshwork/Libation/When Kabuya Dances

—Doug Simpson

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