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Album Review

Vijay Iyer, 'Solo'

August 30, 2010

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When a pianist of Vijay Iyer’s caliber waits this long to put out a solo album — he turns 40 next year and has 10 previous discs to his name — it must be that he’s been waiting until he’s ready. In that regard, last year’s “Historicity’’ — his first trio album — can almost be viewed as a prelude to “Solo.’’ Iyer has long recorded with horns, where his angular compositions have been more central than his own performance. This time it’s all on him. He starts the session with a refreshingly unusual choice: a stripped-down rumination on Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature’’ in which his playing is atypically direct and melodic. More covers follow. Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy’’ is unrecognizable for the first minute. Iyer builds an ostinato and then sneaks in a fragment of Monk’s familiar theme. But it never feels like a Monk tune; this is Iyer’s song, derived from a Monk. Eventually we get to Iyer’s own anti-compositions, and the program changes dramatically, with the earlier emphasis on melody exchanged for nonlinear ideas drawn from the Cecil Taylor school of pianism. And we haven’t even gotten to the two Duke Ellington tunes. “Solo’’ is Iyer’s grand statement, and with it he has fulfilled his promise. (Out tomorrow)

STEVE GREENLEE

ESSENTIAL “Autoscopy’’