Spring Guide 2012: Vijay Iyer Brings Accelerando to Birdland

Duke meets Jacko

The phenomenon of popula-rity descended, without much warning, upon jazz pianist Vijay Iyer in 2009. After a decade of working in a series of well-respected bands and as a leader in his own right, the notoriously fickle Mainstream Gods decreed, in that year, to make the Indian-American musician an official Big Deal. Historicity, a record with his trio (which includes Marcus Gilmore and Stephan Crump on drums and bass, respectively), attracted glitter notices from jazz rags—but crucially, not just from the specialist press. In part, this was due to Iyer's inspired range of covers: In addition to music by modern jazz giants like Julius Hemphill, Iyer proved he could swing M.I.A.'s "Galang" in a way that made many listeners think not just "Oh, no, he didn't," but also "Why didn't someone think of this before?"

Iyer's intuition for moves that feel both original as well as overdue finds renewed expression this season in his latest record with that same trio. Titled Accelerando and conceptually tied to that notion of rhythmic forward momentum, Iyer once again flirts with—and successfully seduces—a strange-bedfellow roster of masters: Songs associated with Michael Jackson, Duke Ellington, Flying Lotus, and Henry Threadgill all get their moments with Iyer & Co.'s love. For any listener with ambitions of staying abreast of more than the manufactured, extra-musical controversies of the pop world (cf. Chris Brown's continued existence, Lana Del Rey's nascent one), spending time with Accelerando should be required. And the album's appearance so early in the calendar year makes it the jam for (not only jazz) musicians to beat during the remainder of 2012.

"I don't know if there's a goal to keep getting crazier and crazier or anything," Iyer says regarding his ever-expanding aesthetic points of reference. "But there is a sense of stretching, you know? And using something radically 'other.' Or at least very much outside our [jazz-trio] format, as a stimulus for ourselves to reach for something maybe impossible. And maybe, in so doing, discovering something of our own."

From April 10 through 14, Iyer's trio will alight upon the Birdland stage to reach for those next, maybe-impossible things. The plan, according to Iyer, is to investigate their established repertoire—and also push beyond it. That means we could hear some covers—and Iyer originals—that failed to make it onto Accelerando, as well as pieces conceived or adapted after its recording. "I made this piece called 'Hood,' which is dedicated to Robert Hood, the Detroit techno pioneer. . . . I had written this piece for my sextet, the trio plus three horns, and then extracted the rhythm parts and made it a rhythm-section improvisation. So we've been checking that out, and it's sort of different every time we play it."

Iyer says that at the moment, the band is less focused on the you-solo-then-I-solo form of jazz performance. Instead, a constantly in-flux strategy of mutual, simultaneous innovation prevails over Accelerando—something Iyer identifies as a by-product of the extensive touring that followed in the wake of Historicity. "This new album is a result of all that, and more about what we sound like now, after being blessed with all those opportunities. Because it's really about test-driving ideas night after night and the process of discovery this music embodies—being improvisational music," Iyer explains before self-censoring the rest of his thought, perhaps stopping lest he sound carried away.

"It's not just about my music," he then continues after a pause. "It's true in general because it's process-oriented. You're kind of involving everyone in the room in that trajectory, in that process of discovery, and . . . just putting people in touch with possibility."

It's safe to say that the room at Birdland won't suffer for volunteers eager to find all those possibilities for themselves when Iyer's trio swings back through town. April 10–14, Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, birdlandjazz.com

Wild Flag
April 1

Odds are if you read both the Times Magazine and New Yorker profiles of Carrie Brownstein in between looking at ads for Portlandia on every culture site on the Internet . . . that you got a little tired of hearing about Carrie Brownstein in 2011? Let that go. Because that new band she's in, Wild Flag—with fellow Sleater-Kinney vet Janet Weiss on drums and ex-Helium mastermind Mary Timony sharing vocals and guitar duties—puts most indie-rock up-'n'-comers to shame. Perhaps you missed the band's first, sold-out NYC shows last year due to all that (deserved) hype? Here's another chance. Webster Hall, 125 East 11th Street, websterhall.com

Bruce Springsteen
April 3, 4, 6, 9; May 2

So the Boss is back with another album. How's the songwriting, you ask? In rather good shape, turns out! And the . . . production values? Pretty standard for his late style, which is to say radio-chasingly awful. So get thee to an arena and hope to hear the best new joints—like "Wrecking Ball" and "You've Got It"—trade in their studio gloss for some of Bruce's live grit. Also: the back catalog. Izod Center, 102 State Route 120, East Rutherford, New Jersey, izodcenter.com; Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza, thegarden.com; Prudential Center, 165 Mulberry Street, Newark, New Jersey, prucenter.com

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