Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith

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They’ve performed together in Smith’s much-heralded Golden Quartet, and now two of the jazz world’s most powerful performers, VIJAY IYER and WADADA LEO SMITH join forces for performances to support their Fall 2016 duo recording for ECM Records. In the tradition of Joseph “King” Oliver with Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, and Louis Armstrong with Earl “Fatha” Hines, Wadada and Vijay will explore the rich, resonant textures of that distinctive combination of piano and trumpet.

Grammy nominee Vijay Iyer was named DownBeat Magazine's 2015 Artist of the Year, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, and a 2012 Doris Duke Performing Artist. Break Stuff, Iyer’s latest record and his twentieth release as a leader, received a coveted five stars in DownBeat magazine, with the German newspaper Die Zeit calling it, “as astonishing as it is intoxicating.” Iyer is a professor of music at Harvard University, and the director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music.

Wadada Leo Smith is one of the most boldly original figures in American jazz and creative contemporary music and one of the great trumpet players of our time. Named “one of the 80 coolest things in jazz today” in DownBeat Magazine, Wadada was voted 2015 Composer of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. His landmark civil rights opus Ten Freedom Summers was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Together, they create powerful and distinctive music.


a cosmic rhythm with each stroke features Vijay Iyer and his “hero, friend and teacher”, Wadada Leo Smith. Vijay previously played extensively with Wadada in the trumpeter’s Golden Quartet. As he recalls in the liner notes here, “That group’s broad palette included ‘pure’ tones and distorted sound, motion and stillness, melody and noise. In quartet performances, Wadada and I often became a unit within the unit generating spontaneous duo episodes as formal links. In the process, a space of possibility emerged that introduced me to other systems of music-making. We have continued this approach in recent years…” A particularly inspiring collaboration at New York’s The Stone early in 2015 underlined the affinity of their sounds and concepts and made the documentation of the duo a priority. Hence this album, produced by Manfred Eicher at New York’s Avatar Studios in October 2015, which captures the improvisational magic of the duo, the expressive individuality of the participants and the ways in which they can – as Wadada Leo Smith says – “merge as a single wave, or a single voice.”
The centre-piece of the album is the spellbinding seven-part title suite, dedicated to Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990). Wadada’s trumpet and Vijay’s piano (and occasional electronics) interact here with creative sensitivity to tone, texture and space. Though the musical form of the suite was largely shaped in the moment in the studio, the recording was preceded by studying and discussing Mohamedi’s work and reading her journals. As Iyer has explained it, in their musical responses to the artwork, he and Smith shared “a certain understanding, a certain set of governing ideas.”
In a major profile piece on Vijay Iyer in the February 1st, 2016 issue of The New Yorker, writer Alec Wilkinson notes that the suite “begins with Smith playing a bright rising phrase like a herald, that seems to announce a character’s taking the stage. What follows might be a two-figure play in which the exchanges involve mortality or impermanence or divinity. The musicians seem to trade remarks and sometimes talk along with one another […] Sometimes they appear to reflect on an exchange and sometimes they brood separately. The discourses are both cultivated and passionate.”
The “suite for Nasreen” is framed on the album by Iyer’s opening composition “Passage” and Smith’s concluding piece “Marian Anderson”, inspired by the great US contralto (1897-1993), an influential singer and an important figure in the civil rights movement. Smith’s colourful graphic score for the latter piece is itself an artwork.
Both musicians have received a great deal of international press attention in recent seasons. Wadada Leo Smith was voted Composer of the Year in 2015 by the Jazz Journalists Association, and in 2013 was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, in the wake of his landmark work Ten Freedom Summers. Vijay Iyer, meanwhile, received the annual prize of the German Record Critics (Preis der Deutschen Schapllattenkritik, Jahrespreis) – the latest of many awards – for his album Break Stuff (with Marcus Gilmore and Stephan Crump), and was voted Jazz Artist of the Year in the Down Beat Critics Poll. Iyer’s other releases on ECM are Mutations, with his music for piano, string quartet and electronics, and Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi, a collaboration with the late filmmaker Prashant Bhargava, and the International Contemporary Ensemble. He also appears on the album Far Side as a member of Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory.
Vijay Iyer is currently artist-in-residence at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he and Wadada Leo Smith will be premiering a cosmic rhythm with each stroke there in March 2016, in the context of an exhibition dedicated to Nasreen Mohamedi’s art and writings.
Wadada Leo Smith first recorded for ECM in 1978 on Divine Love, with Lester Bowie, Kenny Wheeler, Charlie Haden, Dwight Andrews and Bobby Naughton. He also has an entirely solo album, Kulture Jazz, recorded in 1992. His association with ECM, however, goes back to the very beginning of the label’s history. (Theo Kotulla’s 1971 film See The Music – in which Marion Brown and Leo Smith outline their artistic philosophy and perform their music with Manfred Eicher, Thomas Stöwsand and Fred Braceful – was revived in 2012 for the exhibition ECM: A Cultural Archaeology at Munich’s Haus der Kunst.)
Smith belongs to the first generation of players to come out of Chicago’s hugely influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and in 2015 participated in concerts, on both sides of the Atlantic, celebrating the AACM’s 50th anniversary.

Vijay Iyer Sextet – Far From Over  (2017) — August 13, 2017, Something Else
"Finally recording a three-horn sextet that he had first convened and performed with live at least since 2011, Far From Over (August 25, 2017, ECM Records) signals a logical new direction for the pianist, composer and recipient of MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant."
Q&A | 29 Questions For Vijay Iyer — August 1, 2017, Musical Toronto
"At the forefront of today’s jazz pianists, Vijay Iyer’s creative output combines disparate domains in a contemporised package. A 2013 MacArthur Fellow, his career spans the humanities, the sciences, and the arts: Iyer holds a Ph.D in cognitive musical science, and is a professor at Harvard University’s Department of Music."
On the Record with Pianist Vijay Iyer — April 14, 2017, Oberlin Review
Jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer visits Oberlin to attend a workshop performance of Trouble, his new violin concerto, ahead of its world premiere in June.
Music For The Heart And Mind From Pianist Vijay Iyer — March 29, 2017, The National, Abu Dabi
Over the years I have asked ­numerous jazz musicians the same question: what goes through your mind when ­improvising? No one has ever answered with the same illuminating insight as Vijay Iyer,
an American pianist repeatedly ranked among the best improvisers of his generation, who will perform concerts at NYU Abu Dhabi tomorrow and on Friday.

Vijay Iyer at Sanders Theatre — March 20, 2017, The Bay State Banner 
Iyer prefers the term “creative music” to jazz; but he is rooted in its fundamentals, including its consolation and uplift, improvisational give-and-take and syncopated rhythms.


"Iyer was voted top Jazz Artist in the Critics Poll, marking the third time he has won the honor, following wins in 2012 and 2015."

Weaving the dreams of veterans with music, poetry to translate experience of warMay 30, 2016, News Works

“[Vijay] Iyer and Ladd found the stories less told, less known and focused on what interested them, the experiences of people of color before and after the military.”

Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke ReviewMay 17, 2016, Stereophile

“I’ve listened to this album several times now, and it’s growing on me with each play.”

Vijay Iyer talks Improvisation and Basketball - Wisconsin Public Radio NPR, April 28, 2016
You could make a strong case that improvisation is the essence of jazz. But to hear jazz pianist Vijay Iyer tell it, improvising is something we all do, even if we aren’t musicians.

"Iyer and Smith both understand that the duo dynamic is nothing like the one involving two or three more musicians, especially when so much of the music relies on instinct, and both musicians are supremely trustful of their own instincts. Manipulating tone, passion and space with ample amount of empathy, a cosmic rhythm with each stroke is a meditative meeting of masters where each of the participants reach deep inside themselves to make this music."
"A trumpet/piano duo is a tough call, but the two operate with a charismatic delicacy and subtle force. The centrepiece is a largely improvised seven-part suite dedicated to Indian visual artist Nasreen Mohamedi. "
"Both Iyer and Smith perform exquisitely throughout (and yes, Manfred Eicher's clear production captures them perfectly), but also apply their notes, chords, solo flourishes and textures with intellectual aplomb and emotional potency. This is music from the heart performed by the brain, which is, as I consider my ECM collection, perhaps the best way to summarise the label's aesthetic."
"On Sunday, as the audience discussed the violence at the Trump rally, Vijay Iyer’s work with writer Teju Cole seemed to sum up the fearful mood"
"London’s The Wigmore Hall, an established home of Chamber Music, has announced U.S pianist and composer Vijay Iyer as the next Jazz Artist in Residence. Iyer is the fourth to take on this role following the incumbent Chrisian McBride, Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau and will be in place from January 2017."
"Vijay Iyer's jazz vision."
"A group of jazz musicians with a distinctly South Asian inflection, will be heard at Asia Society in Manhattan performing a new sound that combines Carnatic music and western jazz. Their program will be webcast live to reach a wider audience Jan. 23.”"
" 2. Vijay Iyer Trio - “Break Stuff” Working with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, pianist-composer (and MacArthur “genius” and Harvard prof) Iyer has fully incorporated electronica and hip-hop into the jazz vocabulary. Despite the album’s odd, layered meters, you couldn’t ask for a more swinging version of Thelonious Monk’s “Work,” or a more delicate, moving solo-piano treatment of Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count.”"
LA Times: Best of 2015 - December 11, 2015
"Another year, another prime example of pianist Vijay Iyer expanding the piano trio's potential. Here, songs by Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane sit comfortably alongside Iyer's unique compositional voice, including the striking "Hood," which pays tribute to minimalist techno DJ and producer Robert Hood with a tangled valentine to the propulsive vitality of rhythm."
"Break Stuff" wins German Record Critics' Album of the Year prize (Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik) - December, 2015
"The jury statement says: "Filigree ramifications and powerplay, high speed and slowness, harmony bliss and dissonance: out of contrasting elements the Vijay Iyer Trio shapes intense compositions, which draw from the history of jazz as well as from European concert music."" (Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik website.)
"Vijay Iyer’s “Break Stuff” (ECM) featured the pianist at his best, leading his bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore through a program that emphasized original compositions but also made room for standards such as Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count.”."
"6. Vijay Iyer Trio, "Break Stuff" (ECM) A return to form for the restless piano genius."
Vijay Iyer named Artist of the Year and Vijay Iyer Trio named Group of the Year.
"It’s no wonder the pianist is getting more recognition as one of the great new innovators on the jazz scene – a reputation well-earned last night."
"Pianist Vijay Iyer, 43, is probably the most visible member among the group of South Asian-American musicians who have established themselves as leaders in the contemporary jazz world."
"It takes years of arduous practice to become effortlessly spontaneous, the jazzman Vijay Iyer discovered."
"Hailed as “one of the most interesting and vital young pianists in jazz today,” the Grammy-nominated composer-pianist discusses his new album, "Break Stuff.""
"Vijay Iyer, one of the most innovative and original pianists in jazz, plays with his trio at Cornish College on Saturday, May 9."

NPR: Vijay Iyer Trio at Metropolitan Museum of Art May 06, 2015
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced that Vijay Iyer will be their Artist-In-Residence for the 2015-2016 season.

NPR: Tiny Desk Concert: Vijay Iyer TrioMay 05, 2015
Vijay Iyer Trio perform pieces from Break Stuff on NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concerts series.

Vijay to Join the Met as Artist-in-Residence - April 29 2015 Two sides of pianist Vijay Iyer, both striking - April 21 2015
"The second set displayed one of modern jazz's most exhilarating groups at the height of its powers, focusing on pieces from its just-released Break Stuff..."

Télérama: Break Stuff Review - April 2015
France's weekly cultural magazine Télérama gives Break Stuff its highest rating.  Read review (in French).

Jazz News: Vijay Iyer est Déjà Demain - February 2015

Jazz News Magazine features Vijay and Break Stuff in their February issue (No. 39).

CD of the Week - Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff Review - February 16 , 2015
All About Jazz Italia selects Break Stuff as CD of the week and publishes a 4 1/2 star review (in Italian).  Read full review here.

Vijay Iyer, Prashant Bhargava: Rhade Rhade - Rites of Holi - February 16 , 2015
All About Jazz Italia reviews Rhade Rhade: Rites of Holi (in Italian).  Read full review here.

The progressive jazz of Vijay Iyer - February 8 , 2015
Spettakolo! Reviews Break Stuff (in Italian).

Vijay Iyer, high class jazz piano - February 2 , 2015
Affaritaliani reviews Break Stuff (in Italian).  

PopUp Music in Poland Reviews Vijay's latest projects - February 6, 2015
Poland's Pop-Up Magazine reviews both Break Stuff and Rhade Rhade: Rites of Holi in this week's issue.

Die Ziet: Break Stuff Review - January 29, 2015
The January 29th Issue of Germany's Die Ziet raves about Vijay's new record. "...this record is very, very, very good...” ”...As astonishing as intoxicating...”

Downbeat Magazine: Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff - January 20, 2015
The Vijay Iyer Trio's upcoming (Feb 10) release, Break Stuff, receives a 5-star review in the March 2015 issue of Downbeat Magazine.

France Musique - Vijay Iyer s'offre un break en trio - January 19, 2015
Review of Break Stuff (in French).

New York Times: Conscience of a Composer; Vijay Iyer Performs at BAMDecember 19, 2014
"Mr. Iyer’s music was prismatic and encompassing: a knowing homage to Stravinsky’s spiky and propulsive motifs, a mesh of jazz harmonies with Indian modes, a flamboyant orchestral display, an atmospheric swirl..." 

New York Times: Jazz Pianist’s Multiple Worlds - December 12, 2014
"There’s probably no frame wide enough to encompass the creative output of the pianist Vijay Iyer."

Vijay Iyer Trio, 'BREAK STUFF' U.S. Release date: February 10, 2015 - December 3, 2014
"Break Stuff features Vijay Iyer's long-running and widely-acclaimed trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, a band in existence for eleven years now..."  

An Interview with MacArther 'genius,' jazz pianist, and composer Vijay Iyer - October 21, 2014
"Iyer's mutant style -- at the intersection of two rich but usually parallel traditions -- should make him one of the most interesting draws at this year's Chicago Humanities Festival. 
The Washington Post: Vijay Iyer continues his pursuit in transforming Jazz - October 29. 2014
"A pianist, composer and 2013 MacArthur Fellow, Iyer’s concerts can work as lessons as much as performances, although his main goal is the same as any musician’s: enliven, push, liberate..." 
Vijay Iyer: Jazz in the 21st Century - Jun 19th, 2014
From Jazz Open Source Vijay Iyer: Jazz in the 21st Century Vijay Iyer brings you inside the head of a jazz improviser and describes the expressive give and take conversation musicians are having with each other. Listen to the whole show...
Vijay Iyer On Q2 Music's 'Spaces' - Apr 24th, 2014
Take a tour of the MacArthur genius’s home in Harlem, including a look at his Steinway, favorite books and percussion instruments from India. View the video

The Boston Globe: Vijay Iyer takes career moment to moment - March 13, 2014
"Vijay Iyer leans against a wall in Harvard’s Music Building as sound fills the classroom. He’s listening to a recording of one of his students, a freshman, in a high school group. The playing is assured; a small smile on Iyer’s face shows he’s impressed...." 
Vijay Iyer: Mutations | Review- March 10, 2014
NY Times: DNA of a Polymath, Restlessly Mutating - March 7, 2014
"Vijay Iyer's new release bridges string quartet and improvistion..." 
The 2013 MacArthur Foundation Fellow will teach 'Creative Music: Critical Practice Studio' 


Vijay Iyer at Sanders Theatre — March 20, 2017, The Bay State Banner 
Iyer prefers the term “creative music” to jazz; but he is rooted in its fundamentals, including its consolation and uplift, 
improvisational give-and-take and syncopated rhythms.

Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith - Player

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