Take Five: New Music From the Vijay Iyer Sextet, the Anat Cohen Tentet, Matt Wilson and More

Aug 21, 2017

Vijay Iyer Sextet, “Good on the Ground”

Vijay Iyer’s kinetic, convergent musical vision has found expression in almost every conceivable ensemble format, from solo piano to chamber orchestra. But there’s something special, even singular, about the dynamism of his sextet, which releases its debut album, Far From Over, on ECM this Friday. 

The band convenes a handful of Iyer’s sharpest collaborators, and presents a range of options for his pen. “Good on the Ground,” premiering here, opens with layers of polyrhythm, strategically deployed: listen for how Iyer’s pinging piano part sets Tyshawn Sorey’s pummeling toms in stark relief. The first two solos, by tenor saxophonist Mark Shim and then Iyer himself, reinforce a linkage to the fierce postbop roil of Andrew Hill’s music. The final solo, by Sorey, rumbles hard and fast before restating the theme. (The Vijay Iyer Sextet plays the Detroit Jazz Festival on Sept. 4, and on the BRIC JazzFest in Brooklyn on Oct. 20.)

Anat Cohen Tentet, “Happy Song”

We last heard from multireedist Anat Cohen just a few month back, when she released two albums in a Brazilian vein. She’s now announcing Happy Song, an album by her radiant tentet. In case the title itself isn’t enough of a hint, here’s the title track: a lightning bolt etched in  crayon, with Cohen’s clarinet up front.

The album is available for preorder today, and if you’re in the New York area you can catch the tentet on Friday at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, as part of the Charlie Parker Jazz Fest.

Matt Wilson’s Honey and Salt, “Anywhere and Everywhere People”

Drummer-bandleader Matt Wilson has long been fascinated by the poetry of Carl Sandburg, whose rhythm, inflection and worldview reflect a distinctly American voice. Wilson hails from the same Illinois county as Sandburg, and even has a familial connection. So there’s nothing awkward, forced or high-minded about his new album, Honey and Salt: Music Inspired by the Poetry of Carl Sandburg.

Due out on Palmetto this Friday, it features a band with Ron Miles on cornet, Jeff Lederer on reeds and harmonium, Dawn Thomson on guitar and vocals, and Martin wind on acoustic bass guitar. It also features an elite assortment of guests reading Sandburg’s poems, including Joe Lovano, Carla Bley and the actor Jack Black. We couldn’t resist the temptation to post this track, featuring a recitation by Christian McBride — the voice of Jazz Night in America, and someone well qualified to answer the question in the poem: “How does it feel to be seen everywhere?”

Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber, “That Bent Arc Do Be Slow”

You probably know Greg Tate as a cultural critic of bladelike insight and unswayable independence. (If you don’t know him, I’d urge you to remedy that: start with his most recent essay collection, Flyboy 2.) Anyway, Tate is also a bandleader adept in the Butch Morris methodology of conduction, and his main outlet has been Burnt Sugar. It’s a righteous jazz-funk band whose new album, All You Zombies Dig The Luminosity, balances dark mystery against a desire to be plainly understood.

The album showcases a smart succession of vocalists: singers and spoken-word artists alike. But there’s also room for instrumentalists to make an impression, as on the album’s overture, which features trumpeter J.S. Williams. (The title is “That Bent Arc Do Be Slow,” alluding to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s pronouncement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”) If you have the chance to see Burnt Sugar do its thing in person, take it; the next available opportunity is this Wednesday, when the band plays two sets at National Sawdust.

Duke Ellington Octet, “In A Sentimental Mood”

The more fortunate among us caught pianist Ethan Iverson at the Village Vanguard last week, in a quartet led by drummer Billy Hart. (Ben Street was on bass; Joshua Redman stood in for Mark Turner on tenor saxophone. It pains me that I couldn’t make it to the gig.) But there were other significant Iversonian stirrings last week: he also wrote a brilliant essay that the New Yorker published on its website. (Go ahead, read it now, if you can.)

As a framing device, Iverson examines two versions of Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” performed in New York on the same evening in 1967, exactly 50 years ago. Those two versions, by the Bill Evans Trio and by Ellington himself, open the door to a critique of jazz education, a Bach-and-Beethoven analogy, and a reflection on the merits of surrealism. You can take issue with some of Iverson’s conclusions (and the binary setup doesn’t do Evans any favors), but the essay is a terrific read for any jazz fan. And it sent me straight to the Ellington recording, made at the Rainbow Room with an octet featuring an impossibly suave Paul Gonsalves on tenor saxophone.