'A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke' by Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith on ECM Records [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt on Apr 25, 2016 02:12 PM EDT
Iyer and Smith Pianist Vijay Iyer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith (Photo : John Rodgers)

Genius sometimes has its limitations. In the case of brilliant pianist Vijay Iyer and his self-admitted hero Wadada Leo Smith, you have to turn your insides out to get behind what they're laying down. ECM has for years been the arbiter of what's considered palpable enough for mass consumption when it comes to the avant-garde. Label head Manfred Eicher has produced so many sessions over the years with a stirring conception of what constitutes rationality when it comes to musicians who are way out there, that if it says ECM on the label, it's worth listening to. Yet I had trouble with a cosmic rhythm with each stroke.

This piano/trumpet duo hour doesn't change after repeated listenings. Believe me, I tried. Its exotic meld of ambient textures, unflappable esoterica and mind-numbing repetition reaches for the moon, especially on the title suite of epic proportions. Am I missing something? Too dissonant and mesmerizing for background music, too cloudy and wandering for foreground attention, it hangs there, in the air, defying you to actually enjoy it. If you can surrender to its hypnotic weirdness, I suppose one can lose one's self but you'd have to reconsider all notions of usual melodic and harmonic structure. It's like advanced calculus for someone who never made it out of the eighth grade. Unfathomable.

The aforementioned title suite is dedicated to Nasreen Mohamedi [1937-1990], said to be one of India's greatest artists. Her ink and pencil drawings and her writings have created posthumous international acclaim to the point where New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited her work for a solid month this year with Iyer appointed as artist-in-residence. Iyer's "Passage" and Smith's "Marian Anderson" (inspired by the opera singer) flesh out the CD.

Good luck with this one.

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TagsVijay Iyer, Wadada Leo Smith, REVIEW, ECM Records

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